The story of the Magi I suppose largely takes place after the birth of Jesus Christ. After all, the star came out on the night of His birth, and they began to follow the star at that time. However, they would not have had a part in the Christmas story is their story did not begin before the actual night of Jesus’ birth.
As we meet the Magi in Matthew 2, they came specifically seeking the King of the Jews. As they later explained to Herod, they came because they read the prophecy of Micah that indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Their journey began because of their understanding of the Old Testament.
It is significant that these Magi came from the East. They were not Jewish. They were wise men who didn’t believe in the God of Israel. However, they were committed to seeking wisdom wherever it was to be found, and part of that journey involved reading from a tradition other than their own.
Clearly, they studied the Old Testament well. After all, when they saw the astronomical wonder that was the star signifying where Jesus was born, they made the connection right away. The evidence overwhelmed them. They knew that even though believing in a Jewish Messiah was not part of their current worldview, when the evidence pointed them in a certain direction toward something that was true, they knew what they had to do.
Two things stand out to me about the Magi first of all. For one thing, they were readers of the great books of the time, and that encourages me to continue reading the great books of Western civilization. Yes, some of them might not be from my faith tradition, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn truth from them. As an example, I had to read The Prince by Machiavelli this past semester. I don’t agree with a lot of what he said, but I learned a lot from reading his insights on human nature and government. Granted, I don’t expect to find something that will overturn my worldview and send me on a long journey in the way that it happened for the Magi, but it is important to remember that reading great ideas and important books is a good thing.
The second thing about the Magi that stands out to me is that they were willing to follow the evidence wherever it led. They were not Jewish, but when the evidence pointed them towards something supernatural happening in the natural world, they were willing to pursue the evidence. That is significant and admirable. Obviously we don’t know very much more about them from the account in Matthew, but I have to imagine that their fellow Magi thought they were crazy. Who would go off on to this type of an adventure following a star based on the prophecy in a book that wasn’t even from their religion? Their commitment is something we can emulate.
I have more to say about the Magi this week, so make sure you come back.