THE WISE MEN: MAGI AND MYSTERIES
READ: Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11, Malachi 2:3-4, Psalm 141:2, revelation 5:8, John 19:38-40 (Click here to read selections from the NIV)
love language is gifts, which means, according to author Gary Smalley,
that while some people need encouraging words or acts of service, and
others need quality time or physical touch in order to feel loved, all I
need for you to do is give me a present. (When you add that to the
fact that it has to be a surprise, you can see the kind of pressure my
poor husband lives under!) This probably explains why my favorite part
of the Christmas story is when the magi from the East brought gold,
frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child, the act which most likely
spawned the centuries old tradition of giving gifts in celebration of
it turns out, the fact that they brought gifts might be the only detail
we come close to getting right when we include those wise men in our
plays or carols or creches. Even a cursory read of Matthew's account of
their journey reveals that they were never at the manger, and had to
have arrived much later. (I think of that every year when I set out my
mother of pearl nativity set, and solve the problem by setting them
slightly apart just to prove that I am not Biblically illiterate).
There are, however, a few other fallacies about the Magi that seem to
have become embedded in the Christmas story.
For example, the Bible never calls the wise men kings, nor does it tell us where they came from, other than the East, or
that they arrived on camels. In fact, nothing indicates that they
actually followed a star, although they definitely saw one before they
started on their journey, and were filled with great joy when they saw
it again as they approached Bethlehem. Though Scripture mentions three
gifts, it doesn't tell us that there were only three Magi--there could
have been a dozen of them. All of this then begs the question, how did
we end up with these notions about the wise mens' role in the drama of
in-depth Internet search on the subject set my head spinning. What I
discovered is that scholars differ on the source of every one of these
things, although many "experts" assert their opinions with a great deal
of authority. After a few frustrating hours of trying to assimilate the
plethora of information out there, I threw up my hands and asked for
wisdom from above. When things didn't get any clearer, it occurred to
me that perhaps God never intended for us to try to ferret out the
intricate details of these men's role in the story...that all along He
has left us in the dark for good reason. Why? For one thing, because
He is a God of wonder and mystery, and loves the way we end up wrestling
through His Word.
beyond that, perhaps the secrecy in this slice of the story is meant
to point us to the one thing that is beyond dispute, which is that the
Magi from the east brought gifts to the Christ child. What would God
want us to glean from this reality? Perhaps it is as simple as getting a
glimpse of God’s appreciation for giving, or coming to understand that
the inclination to bless others is at the very heart of His character.
These alone are awesome truths.
But then, what about the actual gifts?
Are there some deep spiritual truths inherent in the symbolism of
gold, frankincense and myrrh? Well, if you like your packages neatly
wrapped (no pun intended); even this might be a bit disappointing.
Once again, scholars offer a host of ideas about these things, many of
which are fascinating to consider and have some basis in Scripture, but
in the end, they are all still, simply ideas.
So as we wrap our gifts and tie our bows and enter into the joy of
giving this week, let us give thanks for the mystery of three men who
traveled far from home bearing treasures fit for a King. With each
present we offer – to those we love or to strangers in need – let us
remember that giving has always been God’s idea, that He does indeed
love to give good and perfect gifts to all of His children. And in the
rush of final preparations for Christmas, may we each find at least one
quiet moment to kneel before our King as the Magi did so long ago, and
offer Him that which will bring Him the greatest pleasure, the one
thing no one else can give – the love we each have for Him in our
Scripture is not definitive on the symbolism of the gifts the Magi
brought, it makes a great study, and there are incredible insights to
glean. I have included a few references in the Scripture readings for
today. Go back and read them again (click here).
Spend some time pondering these three things, asking God to speak to
you personally about their meaning for your life today. Ask Him these
two questions about each of them:
Lord, is there a truth about yourself that You want to captivate my heart with today in regards to this?
Lord, is there something about my own life You want to reveal in regards to this?
a few minutes right now to physically kneel before the Lord, imagining
what it must have felt like for the Magi when they met the Messiah.
What was it like the first time you met Him? Offer Him yourself afresh,
and worship the King.
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
time to get creative! Consider the three gifts of the Magi and try to
come up with a way to tell the Gospel story using these. You could
do so through teaching, or even coming up with a fictional story about
the three gifts. Share what you come up with over dinner with your
family or some friends.
For a printable version of this devotional, click here.