Epiphany – How the Gospel Stories Convey the Meaning of the Events we Celebrate at Christmas
And then there are Matthew’s Magi. What are they about? They are non-Jews, who get Jesus right from the very beginning, just as the establishment (Herod and his religious experts) gets Jesus wrong from the very beginning, at least in the sense that they regard him as so serious a threat to their status quo that he must be eliminated at all costs. The Magi, by contrast, emerge mysteriously ‘from the East’ to worship ‘the one born King of the Jews’, and load him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, while Herod’s expressed desire to ‘worship the dear little child’ is really cover for his intention to assassinate it. The upshot of all this is that the child and his obedient father have to flee to, of all places, Egypt – a place that Israel was more accustomed to fleeing from!
But, you ask, did it all happen like this? We cannot know, I am afraid. We can see why Matthew included the story, and what he was saying when he did so. That does not mean that it did not happen; but nor, I am afraid, does it mean that it all took place precisely as described, so that all we have to do is get the right combination of planets or constellations to explain the star, and we can date it all to within a few minutes. It is not like that, nor ought it to be. Our task is to read the story as Matthew intends us to read it, and marvel at this triumph of God’s dealings with his people.
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