The wise men may be among the least understood characters in the first Christmas drama. There's always three. They're always dressed like royalty with flowing robes and glistening crowns. They look like poster children for the United Nations: one Asian, one African, one Middle Easterner. They're always there in the manger delivering their gifts. We even have names for them. Ironically, the Bible doesn't provide any of that information. Christmas carols and cartoons paint an image of the magi that modern Christians just can't seem to shake.
Yet, the magi are too important to simply pull from our nativity sets and throw away. If you insist on putting up your heirloom nativity set, just place the magi a few feet away and pretend they're on their way to Bethlehem. That way you can be sentimental and biblical.
More importantly, though, we have to acknowledge that the Bible does give considerable attention to the magi even if it doesn't give us all the biographical details that we desire. Thus, we must ask why are they there. Why did Matthew spill so much ink on these guys? What are we to learn from them? In short, the magi teach us something the doxological purpose of the first advent. These Gentile astrologers sought a real King and show us how to worship the Christ of Christmas.
They worshiped Him with the right attitude. These men were looking for the King. They expected to find Him. When they lost sight of the star for a brief period of time, they did not give up and go home. They kept going believing that something special had taken place. When they saw the star again, "they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy" (Matt 2:10).
Are you expecting to encounter the living Christ this Christmas?
They worshiped Him with the right altitude. I realize that sounds preacherly, but that's what they did. When the magi arrived in Bethlehem and found the Child that they had been seeking for years, they fell on their faces and they worshiped. They didn't stand there and gawk. They didn't work the room pressing flesh and kissing babies. They weren't worried about appearances. The text says the "fell down" and they "worshiped him." (v. 11a)
How are you planning on spending your Christmas?
They worshiped Him with the right gratitude. The worship of the magi did not end with their falling prostrate before the young Child. Their worship continued as they presented their gifts. They brought riches not pitances. They brought their best not their leftovers. They brought gifts befitting a King. (v. 11b)
What are you offering Jesus this Christmas? An occasional thought or the worship He deserves?
The bumper sticker says: Wise Men Still Worship Him. Do you?
Peter Beck (Ph.D. Southern Seminary) is assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina and a former Senior Pastor. Dr. Beck also writes at his Website, Living to God.