Matthew 2:1-12 records the bizarre visit of a number of ‘magi from the east’ who travelled specifically to see the infant Jesus, to worship ‘the one who has been born king of the Jews’. It would be hard to imagine a group less like the other visitors recorded by Luke 2:8-20 – the ‘shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks by night’. These magi were educated people, wealthy, and foreign; the shepherds were locals, most likely young boys, or older men who couldn’t get a better job. The magi, from somewhere in the East – the term is Persian, but they were found throughout the region - worked out that a king had been born from their observations of the stars. The shepherds had to be told – by an angel, and then a whole military company of angels!
But the point of both records is essentially the same – this baby who had been
born was the one promised by God, and predicted by prophets of long ago.
Isaiah 61:1 says, ‘the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the
poor’; and Isaiah 60:1-6 says, ‘Nations will come to your light, and kings to
the brightness of your dawn.’ Within two years of Jesus’ birth, the nations
arrived bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of this new king.
Jesus’ birth was good news for the oppressed and dispossessed people of
the ancient nation of Israel; he represented proof that their God had not
forgotten them, he was fulfilling his promise to restore them to ownership of
their land, to self-rule, and national pride. But it was so much more – Jesus
didn’t come only for Israel, because God isn’t concerned only for one nation.
All people are God’s creation, and the visit of the magi confirmed that Jesus’
birth is news for all races, that God loves them and calls out to them.
In the tradition, tension and tiredness of Christmas celebrations, Christians
must remember that Jesus’ birth isn’t our heritage; it’s a gift for all people,
everywhere; his message isn’t a treasure to hoard, it’s a gift that grows when
you give it away even to the most unlikely listeners.
- Katie Peken