When You Wish Upon a Star
James C. Denison
Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre died and went to heaven. God was showing him around, and they came to a modest little house with a faded Packers flag in the window. “This house is yours for eternity, Brett,” said God. “This is very special; not everyone gets a house up here.”
Brett felt special indeed, and walked up to his house. On his way up the porch, he noticed another house just around the corner. It was a three-story mansion with a blue and silver sidewalk, a 50 foot tall flagpole with an enormous Cowboys flag, and in every window, a blue star.
Brett looked at God and said, “God, I’m not trying to be ungrateful, but I have a question. I was the league’s all-time leader in pass completions and a Hall of Famer.” God said, “So what do you want to know, Brett?” “Well, why does Tony Romo get a better house than me?” God chuckled and said, “Brett, that’s not Tony Romo’s house. It’s mine.”
Whatever God’s house looks like in heaven, he changed locations dramatically when he came to earth. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, chose to be born in a cow stall and to be laid in a feed trough. He chose field hands to be his first worshipers. He chose to be raised by peasant parents in a tiny, obscure village. But along the way, he did arrange for one very special set of visitors.
As we will see today, the Magi are more like us than anyone else in the Christmas story. What they did to find the hope and joy of Jesus is exactly what you and I must do today to find him this Christmas week. The next time you wonder if life makes sense, if the Lord is really in charge, if God knows what he’s doing, remember the Magi–and choose to be one. Let’s learn how.
Preparing the Magi
Nearly everything in our traditions about the Wise Men is wrong. We think there were three, since they brought three gifts, but they usually traveled in groups of 12 or more for safety. We call them kings, but they were actually priests and religious scholars.
Medieval legend says that Thomas went to Persia and won the Magi to Christ, and that they became evangelists. In the fourth century, pilgrims claimed to have discovered their bones. In 1162 they were supposedly moved to Cologne, Germany, where they are enshrined today. But none of this is really true.
Here’s what we do know about them. They were “from the east” (v. 1), the ancient civilization of Persia. They would be Iranians today. As Gentiles, they would never have been allowed into a Jewish worship service. They practiced magic and sorcery, skills forbidden by the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:14). They believed in two gods, breaking the First Commandment (Exodus 20:3). But by God’s grace, they became the first Gentiles in all the world to worship the Christ. Because they could come to Jesus, we can come to him.
They were the most learned people of their society, scholars in philosophy, medicine, and science. They were wealthy, of such independent means that they could leave their homes and families for a journey lasting more than two years, and afford the finest gifts for the Child when they found him.
Above all, they were religious men, much like the Levites of ancient Israel. In fact, no sacrifice could be made unless one of them was present. Their supreme god was Ahura Mazda, meaning “All-Wise Lord.” They believed that he dwells in eternal light, explaining why they would identify a star with a divine king.
Worship for Persians is an essential duty in venerating their creator. No animal sacrifices were made, but gifts were brought as offerings. Thus they brought gifts rather than sacrifices to Jesus.
They were waiting for a last Prophet or Savior to come. He would bring the resurrection of the dead, the general judgment of the entire world, the burning of the existing universe, and the eternal destruction of the evil spirits. All this they learned from their pagan religion.
The rest of the story came from the Jews.
Remember that the Jewish people had been enslaved in Babylon six centuries before Christ; more stayed than returned when the Persians liberated them. Jewish synagogues persisted in Persia through the first century to the present, so that as many as 30,000 Jews live in Iran today.
When they were exiled to the region, the Hebrews elevated their expectations of a Messiah who would liberate them. And so their teachings regarding a coming Messiah were known to the Persians, and especially interested the Magi.
They knew that a Messiah was coming, a Liberator who would be the King of the Jews. He would be part of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:19), the line of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) and the house of David (Jeremiah 23:5). And so he would reign in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah and the city of David.
To sum up, the Magi were waiting for a Savior to consummate history. They believed that a great Light would show us the way to him. When a star announced that the King of the Jews had been born, they set out for Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, on a journey which would change their history and ours.
God arranged all of this, beginning centuries before his Son entered the human race. When you wonder if he is the God of the nations, the Lord of the universe, the God of history and humanity, remember what he did over seven centuries to prepare the Magi for Christmas.
Bringing the Magi
Now watch what he did to bring them to Bethlehem. First, under his sovereignty, the Emperor issued an edict that all the world must be taxed. This edict forced Joseph to bring Mary and her unborn child from Nazareth to Bethlehem.