Today we conclude our brief study of the “Figures of the Nativity” by speaking about the Magi, the last people to take part in the story. We are not told how many “Magi” came to worship Jesus. We have settled on three, since three distinct gifts were offered. We know that the Magi came from far away and followed a star for two years before finding the Christ-child (notice He is a child, not a babe in swaddling cloths when the Magi arrive).
There are two very important things that the Magi bring to the Nativity. First they bring faith. Faith is when you don’t know the outcome of something but you do it anyway. It doesn’t take faith for me to sit in the chair I’m sitting in. I know that this chair will support my weight. I knew that when I bought it. There is no faith involved in this exercise. It doesn’t take faith to drive a car—it takes skill. It does, however, take faith, to leave one’s home and one’s country and just start walking, following a star, not knowing where it would lead or what would be found at the end of the trail. This is the first lesson of the Magi.
Our Christian life is a lot like the journey of the Magi. It is long to most of us. However, most of us don’t know where it will end up, and there are always unexpected twists and turns along the way. I learned a long time ago that God isn’t going to judge us by where we end up necessarily (it won’t matter to Him if we are rich and famous) but the journey in getting there. Did we make our journey with honesty? Integrity? Consistency? Whatever journey God has laid out for us (based on the talents and circumstances that He has crafted uniquely for each of us), God’s desire is to walk our unique path in a way that honors Him and shows love for others.
Even though the Scriptures do not use the word “seek” in the story of the Magi, several Christmas carols do. The Magi went on a two year journey, following the Star, “seeking” something. They were intrigued enough to leave countries and kingdoms far away to follow after the Star. Those who are “seekers” expect to find something. For those who think they have found whatever they need, there is no impetus to be seekers. It is important as Christians that we have the attitude of “seekers”. We can’t pretend to know everything there is about the Christian faith and the Christian life, but we should always be seeking to know Christ on a deeper level.
The Magi had no idea where their journey would lead them. However, they followed the star, not in blind obedience, but in joy. We read in the Scriptures that when they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They weren’t insistent or impatient in the journey. They rejoiced for the path. All that God asks of us is to walk the path with joy and with love, walking as best we can in the way of His commandments, using the talents with which He has blessed us.
The second thing we remember about the Magi is their gifts. They didn’t come to meet Christ empty-handed. They brought gifts that were appropriate for the occasion—Gold for a king; frankincense for God; myrrh because of the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross, after which His Body would be anointed with myrrh.
Much of the emphasis of Christmas has to do with gifts. We stress and overspend as we shop for the perfect gifts. We wait with anticipation hoping we got the gifts on our list. There is sometimes disappointment when we don’t get what we want, and whatever we don’t think we can use, we return to the store.
As we scurry around to buy our gifts in the last few days before the Nativity, it is important to remember that there is a “gift exchange” with Christ on Christmas in two ways. In the Divine Services, we offer our attendance, and He offers Himself in the Holy Communion. And in our lives, He offers us salvation, and in exchange we offer the first fruits of our lives.
Every part of the creation brought a gift to the manger—the Angels brought hymns, the heavens brought a star, the shepherds brought wonder and the Magi brought gifts. The earth offered a cave and the human race offered the Virgin Mary. As we come again to the manger what will we offer? What will you offer?
When the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, Magi came from the East, and they worshiped God become man. They readily opened their treasures, and the offer Him precious gifts: pure gold to the King of the ages; incense to the God of all; and myrrh to the Immortal One, who would die for three days. Come, all nations, let us worship Him who was born to save our souls. (Aposticha, Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
What shall we offer You, O Christ, because You have appeared on earth as a man for our sakes? For each of the creatures made by You offers You its thanks: the Angels, their hymn; the heavens, the Star; the Shepherds, their wonder; the Magi, their gifts; the earth, the Cave; the desert, the Manger; and we, a Virgin Mother. God before the ages, have mercy on us. (Stichera, Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
The lessons of the Magi are: We must be seekers. The journey to salvation is long, and the way sometimes is unknown. We must continue to trust. We must walk with joy. And we must bring gifts that are fit for God, accepting also His gifts to us.
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