The Visitors From The East
1. We call this day of January the sixth in the church calendar "The Presentation To The Gentiles" or "The Ephipany To The World." On this day, the story in chapter two of Matthew which we read today is read in many churches through out the world.
2. Being led by a star some eastern scholars had come to visit the messiah. It is a scene often played out in Christmas pageants. No doubt this is a well known story by most. But, because of its mysterious picturesque depiction, we are apt to take it as a fairy tale kind of story that has nothing to do with us at all in our real world.
3. But, this tale of Christ is not a fairy tale for kids. The son of God didn't come into a day dream world of no suffering or pain, but came into the world we're in with all its hardships. In other words, God cares about this world and he still cares about us today. The biblical story must be read in relation to our daily affairs. God's word must be heard in our everyday reality.
The Unrest Of King Herod
4. In this account the king by the name of Herod appears and also the scholars who came from the east appear in it, [who are called ] "astrological scholars" in the New Interconfessional Version. These men were made of flesh and blood just like us. So, there is a common feature between us and those depicted here in this passage. They represent different kinds of humanity. We can either be like Herod or the visiting scribes from the east.
5. Let's read the first part of the story again. "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea at the time of King Herod. At that time, the astrological scholars came to Jerusalem from the east and said, 'Where is this one who is born King of the Jews? Because we saw his star in the east we have come to worship him.' Upon hearing this, King Herod was engulfed in fear. All the people of Jerusalem [felt] the same way," (verses one to three).
6. The Christmas story is a story of the true king's birth. Through the history of the Jews God gave the message that the true king whom he has given to humankind is Jesus. That a king has been given to rule over us is truly a joyous thing. Because there is no one among us who can even rule righteously over us.
7. In light of what happened in the coming of this true king, people could be divided into two types. There were some who longed for the true king and went on a journey to find him. There were some who weren't happy over the king's arrival.
8. The representative of those who were not happy with the arrival of Christ the king was Herod. Why wasn't Herod happy? It was no doubt because his right to rule was being threatened. Since he himself was the king and for a person who wanted to keep being king, the coming of some other king was annoying news.
9. We can be little Herods ourselves. We have our own different kingdoms. We want to maintain our turfs. The smallest of kingdoms might be our own lives. At the least, some would claim that my life is my own. And they might ask someone else to work for them as they so see fit. For such an one, the coming of the true king might not be thought of as joyous. The text says, "Herod was engulfed in fear."
10. It's worth while to take note of the phrase "engulfed in fear." There is a background to this fact of Herod being engulfed in fear. Through out his life his fears were never ending. For, though he was king ruling the Jews, he himself was not pure Jew. So, this king might have strutted around his authority, but on the other hand he was ever afraid of anyone who might threaten his throne. Because he was suspicious of every shadow, he even executed his own wife whom he ought to have loved as his one and only. That wasn't all. Around twenty years after that, he couldn't help himself from having his own sons executed one by one. Finally he executed his eldest son and five days later after being stricken with a painful illness he died. His whole life was one of being stricken and tormented by unrest and fear. Herod, who so much wanted to keep being king, was instead a slave to fear and unrest.
11. In this sense too, we are often times little Herods. When we want to keep being king and live like we please, we instead get overtaken by fear and unrest, by jealousy and worry. While we hope to be kings, we become slaves to fear and unrest. Unending fear and unrest is at the historical background to humankind injuring and destroying one another. This is really the state of human society. That's how things are when a person's life is without a true king or when society is without a true king.
The Joy Of The Visitors From The East
12. Next, let's turn our attention on to the callers from the east. They were astrological scholars, [magi]. It is believed that they came from out of Persia. Persia had been a flourishing point for a long time in astrolatry and astrology. They believed that heavenly bodies such as the sun or the moon were in control of one's destiny and fate. Because their destinies were determined by the control of these heavenly bodies to know one's destiny held considerable significance.
13. In place of another, humans want to put themselves on the throne of their kingdoms. They want to keep on being king. But in another sense, they feel that they are under the control of some inexplicable power. Even though they don't fully understand it, they still feel that things are being fixed by this unknown something. Even in their individual lives and even for one single day in one's life time, they know that it can't be as perfectly as they would have it. They are being controlled by something there. Humankind admits to this reality deep down in his or her heart.
14. Therefore, even to this day fortune telling houses haven't declined. Spiritualists and mediums with power to predict and founders of new religions where oracles are uttered still are made much of and given respect. Indeed, there are still some who think they can make it if they just knew the future. For some, destiny and fate mean nothing but hopelessness. All it amounts to them is but to live in resignation to fate. Some are unable to hope for anything new in their lives and many are unable to hope for anything new in the world. They think this was destined to happen, that's just my luck that I'm locked into. They put themselves under the control of an unknowable force. But, that is childish superstition.
15. But, the magi arise out of this world amok with such fortune telling. And they set out on a journey seeking the true king. It had probably been a long long journey. They did not understand what they might have heard regarding the coming of the messiah. They probably heard of the expectant faith in the messiah as told to them by the Jews who had migrated to Persia. But, the main thing is that they had traveled on account of their divination based lifestyle.
16. They fell down prostrate in worship before the Christ infant and offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts were said to have been gifts that pointed from of old to the kind of person that Christ was to be. That is, gold stands for Christ as the true king, frankincense stands for Christ as the true priest, and myrrh stands for the burial of Christ. Also, these gifts are said to have been implements that used to be used in astrology. If that was so then we might suppose that [these gifts] also signified their renunciation of astrological practices.
17. Either way, their visiting and seeking the messiah and their worshipping of the babe should signify that they no longer were to be seen as men under the control of stars. They stopped living under the power of the unknown forces of fate. Because they had met their true king. Then they began to live under the rule of God who had sent them their true king the messiah. In coming to this point, their traveling at last became meaningful. For us too, the greatest and most significant thing during our journey of life is to seek and to find the true king, him who is worthy of our worship and worthy of the offering of ourselves to him.
18. As a result of what we've seen here, the figures of Herod and the visitors from the east, which were caused by the coming of Christ, are bipolar contrasts. Herod heard the witness of scripture concerning the coming of Christ from the high priests familiar to him and from the scribes of the law. The joyous news was readily familiar to him. But Herod did not accept Christ as his King. Herod said, "I will go and worship him, too," but what was really in his heart was to obliterate the Christ.
19. In stark contrast, the text says the callers from the east "were filled with joy." Those filled with joy were people who had sought for Christ, met him as their true King, and so they worshipped Him. This story has been told and is being retold even on this day as true for us. Through this [retelling] today God invites us out of the rule of various superstitious imaginary things with their fear and unrest unto the rule of Christ, unto the rule of the Christ so filled with joy and peace.