In the church calendar, today is Epiphany – the day when we think about the wise men following a star to Bethlehem to worship the baby Jesus, and that carol is sung. You know the one:
Star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright;
Westward-leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.
I do like some of its truths: Gold for kingship; frankincense for a deity; myrrh as a reminder of the kind of death He would die, but you won’t catch me singing the first verse. I hate it with a passion: Firstly because they weren’t kings and nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three of them, but it’s more than that. I don’t like it because it takes away from who they really were and what that means.
The ministry Telling the Truth once released a box set called “Coping with Christmas”. I bought the series on CD and would recommend it. In their message about the wise men or Magi, they said the first four letters of that word gave us a clue: Magi … magic. In Biblical books like Daniel, when it came to distant nations (E.G. Babylon), their ‘Wise men’ were magicians and astrologers. Very likely, these were too.
I find that amazing because in the Law Moses wrote for the Jews, God had something to say about magic and astrology: “Don’t let anyone use magic or witchcraft, or try to explain the meaning of signs” (Deuteronomy 18:10). “The LORD hates anyone who does these things. Because the other nations do these things, the LORD your God will force them out of the land ahead of you.
“The nations you will force out listen to people who use magic and witchcraft, but the LORD your God will not let you do those things” (Deuteronomy 18:12, 14). Astrology and magic aren’t what God wants for His people, and living like that, they (or we in our generation) aren’t right in God’s sight.
But the story of the Magi is so awesome because God didn’t toss them aside or give up on them. When they weren’t living right before Him, He met them where they were at. They studied the stars for guidance, so the Messiah’s star appeared in the east. When they bowed down and gave Jesus their worship, it was a call to a changed life – a life centred around this new-born King they’d come to see.
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Perhaps this Epiphany, it’s worth celebrating that God offers the same to us. If you accept His offer, you can say with me and with Paul: “We should have suffered God’s anger because we were sinful by nature. … But God’s mercy is great, and He loved us very much. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, He gave us new life with Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5).