As another Christmas season passes and the decorations begin to be put away in the closet for next year, the images of the magi visiting the baby Jesus are common. We see them in the crèches on church lawns and in front of the neighbor’s house across the street. Maybe you joined in singing a verse from “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” The image is serene, calming and pastoral. Amazing how culture has taken such a divisive scene and stripped it of the challenge forced upon us with this baby born, King of the Jews. The passage from Matthew is frightening to many.
Those who studied the night sky and searched the heavens for knowledge or wisdom saw stars align telling them of the birth of a king, the King of the Jews. They packed gifts worthy of a king and ventured westward to ask Herod where to find this king. When they found the child Jesus, they worshiped him.
Herod’s rule as king was a political appointment from Rome. He was not the legitimate heir to the throne of David and he knew it. He acted like it too. His plan was to deceitfully use the magi as a means to kill his challenger to the throne. Herod’s approach was no different from what we hear about today in the news. Political challengers and journalists critical of authoritarian governments end up missing or dead. Herod’s tactics are nothing new.
The story of the magi and Herod is a word against the Jewish people of the time for rejecting their king. In contrast, the Gentile magi knew who Jesus was and worshiped him. This passage also challenges us to recognize Jesus as King of the Jews and Lord of all. Will we recognize his legitimacy as King and Lord?
The birth of Jesus is frightening because it challenges the power and legitimacy of the kingdoms of this world. The magi knew it and Herod did too. Do we?