Christmas Devotional

Wise Men & the Limits of Human Wisdom

Wise Men & the Limits of Human Wisdom

Wednesday Jan. 1

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-2

Traditionally we call them wise men, which is a translation of the word magi. It appears that they may have been astrologers, who saw this new star of wonder and followed it to Jerusalem. The word magi might remind us of magic. Indeed, in other places in the New Testament the term was used to speak of ancient magicians.

We’re not entirely sure who they were. Nor do we know how many of them came from far away to Judea in search of the newborn king of the Jews.

This weekend many Christians will sing “We three kings” in their worship services. The old joke is that they were neither kings, three, nor wee (old joke…not necessarily a good joke), because neither the number of wise men nor their status as kings is found in Matthew’s Gospel.

The tradition of three wise men comes from the three gifts that they brought to the holy family. And they are often depicted as kings because this story has been understood as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 60:3

“Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

The magi are gentiles, outsiders. They worship gods other than the God of Israel. Yet they are drawn to the one true God through the Messiah, Jesus. The outsiders are drawn to God because God has called them, invited them in.

We do well to remember that most of us were born gentiles, non-Jews. We were not born into the people of God. Rather we have been invited in, like the magi, by God in Jesus Christ. We are the ones Paul addresses in Ephesians,

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived…But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:1 & 13)

The Christmas pageant continues, and we get to play the part of the wise men. We may do our best to journey ahead using our own God-given ability for insight and discernment. But we don’t come to God because we figured it all out and found the way. Ultimately, we can only come to God because God has come to us.

Prayer: Thank you, O God, for including outsiders like us. May we remember that life in Christ is your gift to us, not our achievement. Amen. 

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