Wise Men From the East

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east” (Matthew 2:1).

Amidst staggering world events, concerns over the economy, wars, pressures of daily life, health, grief over loved ones who have recently left us, and the unknown future, it seems somehow unnatural to get into the partying mood. Yet perhaps these very shadows prepare us to better penetrate the depth and richness of the real Christmas spirit.

Pondering these issues I’ve taken some time to reflect on the various aspects of the Christmas story, and in spite of the fact that my brother Bud is in Congo this season, I’m interrupting his reports to share some thoughts with you starting with the Wise Men from the East who appear in Matthew 2. What were they all about?

Like most storywriters, I enjoy figuring out my characters in advance, but sometimes they breathe over my shoulder and correct me on my pre-determined conceptions of who they really are. It would appear that such has also been my own pre-conceived ideas with regard to these fascinating characters that the Bible calls Wise Men. What makes them especially appealing to me this year is that they have connections to the very setting of my latest book: BelkA of BABYLON, that encompasses the Fertile Crescent—or the crescent-shaped body of land around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Those of you who have read the above-mentioned book, no doubt remember the character Parto, the slave of envoy BelkA, whose friend Shai was a Hebrew exile and the landscaping engineer who designed the watering system for Babylon’s famous hanging gardens. This Shai, a firm believer in the One True God, had read and memorized portions of the Sacred Writings that he’s shared with Parto that, in the course of the story, influenced protagonist BelkA.

Daniel in Persia

In that same ancient time frame, another Hebrew exile in Babylon by the name of Daniel, had risen to power in the courts of King Nebuchadnezzar II, and according to Daniel 2:48, was placed in charge of the wise men or Magi—borrowed from the Greek word Magus—a priestly class of sages or nobles formerly mentioned in Scripture about Egypt in connection with Joseph and Moses. These were influential Gentiles of noble birth who comprised most of the educated class of their times. Some were superstitious magicians, astrologers, or soothsayers who imposed on the credulity of the people, while others were devout men of integrity and wisdom who studied nature—especially the skies—and beheld in them the glory of the Creator.

Ancient Library of Alexandria

These sages appeared in Persia, then in Ptolemaic Egypt where the Scriptures were translated into Greek, placed in the famous library of Alexandria, and from there spread throughout the Greek and Roman world where more sages, ever-seeking for a clearer knowledge of the Creator, studied the prophetic Writings and found that a King would come out of Jacob or Israel.

Then one starry night they saw a special star and knew that He had come. The rest of the story is one we all know so well: their perseverance, the Divine guidance all the way to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, and culminating in that marvelous scene where they kneel in worship before their King, the Eternal God manifested in human flesh.

Though few details are included in Matthew’s account regarding the wise men, we sense a profound significance in their reverential and deliberate actions. Did they truly comprehend that the child before them was indeed the Creator and sustainer of the Universe, the One who determines the number of the stars and counts them by name (Psalm 147:2)? Had they already concluded that He had come to offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and thus open the way to heaven for all who believe? They must have, because it had been clearly revealed in the prophecies of Isaiah (53::6): “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

As we begin to see with their eyes, we catch a glimpse of who the Christ-Child truly is: King of Kings and Savior of the world. And this explains the pouring out of rich gifts in His honor.

2000 plus Christmases have come and gone, and much of the amazing mystery and wonder of that first Christmas are overshadowed with the glitter, glamor and frenzy of extravagant merry-making.

It is indeed appropriate to celebrate this special event, but let us also remember to follow their example in sincere worship and in offering gifts—not just for ones we know and love—but especially those in need whom we may not even know by name.

In my minds eye I see the children and adults of Congo who won’t have fine dinners and gifts this that most of us will enjoy this Christmas,  yet my heart rejoices in the news received even as I write this post, of a women’s Bible study group—composed mostly of widows—who are arranging for a special gift that will help enable brother Bud to travel far into the interior of Congo to encourage good number Congolese of all ages. In my heart I hear the glowing echo of the Savior’s own words in Matthew 25:40: “(Even) as (you) have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”  Wouldn’t it be thrilling for us to live out Christmas just like the wise men in our worship and in our gifts. This is my wish for Christmas 2011.

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And Heaven and nature sing.” —Isaac Waats, 1719

 

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