Nobody knows how many they were or exactly where they came from. Their story, as it is told by Matthew is full of mystery. Here is what we do know: A group of men from the East, perhaps from Persia traveled a long distance, perhaps an entire year, just to see Jesus, the baby. They were part scholars, part priests, part prophets. They knew some of the old biblical prophecies and were astute observers of the sky. They followed a star unlike any other they had ever seen to the place where Jesus was, and then bowed in worship and offered precious presents to Jesus.
The Season of Advent
The story of the wise men (the Magi) is remembered year after year as we celebrate Advent, the period four weeks of anticipation and preparation for Christmas. According to the Church’s tradition, this is the beginning of the Christian calendar, and rightly so. As the very history of humanity centers at the birth of Christ, every year of our worship of Him should start anew with our preparation for the greatest event in History.
Every year I see at least one car with a big Christmas sticker that says: “Wise men still follow the star.” However many they are, the Wise men from the East are leaders because they influence us today, two millennia after their journey through the desert.
They paid attention to the Word of God. Scholars suggest that the wise men knew of old prophecies that foretold of the birth of a King in Israel and of a very special star that would announce the event. I read one particular writer who believes they were part of a guild of Babylonian sages that had been led and taught by Daniel during the reign of Nabuchadnezzar. This would explain why they worshipped the one true God and knew many, but not all of the prophecies of the Old Testament.
They were paying attention to the world around them. The Wise men were students of the stars, part astronomers, part astrologers. They were able to see the star that nobody else noticed because they were paying attention.
They took action. The star drew their attention and then they connected the dots with the prophecies they had heard and read, but the wise men would have remained anonymous believers if they didn’t get on their camels and rode almost 2,000 Km (1,600 miles) to see the new King of the Jews.
Now every year their story is remembered. As the centuries went by, tradition filled in the gaps and added embellishments to the original story. The “three” wise men, names, or their presence in the stable of Bethlehem twelve days after Christmas. These are unlikely additions, but their memory lives on as long as the birth of Christ is mentioned, and their faithfulness to God and willingness to worship the Christ Child inspires us to do the same ourselves.
So, as Christmas comes along, let’s remember to follow the wisdom of the wise men. Let’s pay attention to God’s word, let’s keep our eyes open to the times around us. Then, when the dots connect, let’s take a step of faith and follow the star. Perhaps God will lead us to another special moment in History and allow us to be part of His story.