Some call them magi, others wise men, and some kings, but here is why we do them injustice in our Christmas pageants and what you need to know about these wealthy risk-takers.
Not Your Christmas Pageant
If your son or grandson is wearing a fake beard and towel this Christmas as he parades around the church bearing gifts for baby Jesus, I’m sorry. Enjoy the pageant but the truth is MUCH stronger than our fun Christmas fiction.
Helen and I received a magnificent hand-made nativity set for our wedding 27 years ago. Each Christmas I love setting it out and it includes three wise men and three camels. I still set it out but the truth is we don’t know there were three wise men. We assume that because of three gifts.
What we do know is that the wise men were not at the birth with the shepherds. They appeared later. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem” Mt. 2:1. One important reason we know this is because Jesus was born into a very poor family. Eight days after his birth Jesus is presented in the temple along with a sacrifice of “a pair of doves or two young pigeons”, (Lk. 2:24) the offering made by the poor.
We also know the wise men came later because they met Mary and Joseph at a house. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Mt. 2:11. Finally we know this because Herod calculated the time of birth and gave orders to kill those boys “who were two years old and under”. Mt. 2:16.
Why the magi were wealthy risk-takers
We don’t know exactly where the magi came from but it is likely they came from Persia. We know about magi from the story of Daniel who was one of these wise men who excelled “in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them”. Dan. 1:20.
The magi studied more than stars as they discerned solid advice for Kings and leaders. For this advice they were paid well. The discernment of these men is seen in their ability to follow the star over a vast distance to Bethlehem. Mt. 2:2. Their discernment was further seen in sensing through a dream that Herod was threatened and they should not listen to a sitting King, but avoid him. Mt. 2:12.
These wealthy risk-takers left their positions at court, snubbed a lesser King Herod, and recognized the one true King who they worshipped. They were impressive business leaders.
Why these wonderful risk-takers matter
In addition to fulfilling several passages of Scripture, I like the critical, practical role they played in using their gifts to advance God’s purposes.
Don’t miss this.
The wise men used their time, talent and treasure to advance God’s Kingdom. They were willing to take a risk and spend significant time traveling for a King. They used their gifts of discernment and provided significant treasure – gold, frankincense and myrrh. These men recognized in the Christ child that He was destined to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They didn’t care what others thought as they sacrificially gave money to him.
Why the giving of the magi matters
When is the last time you heard a sermon on how the gifts of the magi made it possible for Joseph and Mary to flee Bethlehem as refugees to Egypt? Mt. 2:13-15. Or have you ever wondered how a poor family could afford to provide Jesus with an education to read and by age 12 debate the religious leaders? Lk 2:41-52. And while Jesus was supported by wealthy business women in His ministry (Lk. 8:3) that does not completely explain how Jesus could support himself and several disciples.
While the Bible is not explicit, there is good reason to believe the giving of the magi provided protection to a poor refugee family, education to a future rabbi, support when Mary became a widow, and helped launch the greatest ministry of all time. Jesus could have created all that was needed out of nothing. But he chose to involve others in carrying out the purposes of God. From the very beginning God used 3 amazing wealthy risk-takers to provide for his ministry on earth.
The relevance of the magi
I will continue to have fun with our nativity set. I will enjoy the Christmas pageants. But DO NOT miss the critical significance of the magi. You can be like them. You can support refugees, widows, education and ministry. Discern God’s leading and have the courage to be a risk-taker and sacrificially give to advance the Kingdom of God.
Some of you may discern the common thread of justice that runs across multiple areas of need and the opportunity to use the law as a vehicle of rescue and restoration for the Kingdom. We invite you to use your resources for Kingdom impact.
Like the magi a one-time sacrificial gift of $5,000 will launch a ministry. The ministry is self-sustaining. Clients are invited to provide some small payment for services: $30 rather than $300 an hour. We can use those small gifts to sustain and grow a ministry but we need the funds to launch. Perhaps you cannot provide that level of support. A gift of $2,500 will serve as a matching grant to a local pro bono legal ministry looking to expand into a nearby neighborhood. Or perhaps you can provide $1,000 which pays for education for a team that will impact hundreds to thousands of lives. Any amount makes it possible for us to further the Kingdom of justice and righteousness.
While we would love to partner with you, we strongly encourage you to be magi. Discern God’s leading and use your time, talent and treasure to courageously advance His kingdom. We pray every time you look at the wise men, you will have a fresh, new perspective on God’s bigger Christmas pageant.