Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him.
We turn our attention these next seven days to the magi, or wise men, who came to Jerusalem seeking to find the King of the Jews. Who were they? The Bible doesn’t give a lot of information on them. The Bible says that they brought three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. We will discuss these in a couple of days. Orthodox icons depict three magi, to match the number of the three gifts. In Orthodox iconography, one is a young man, one a middle-aged man and the other an elderly man. Sometimes, they are depicted as being of three races—one Caucasian, one African, and one Asian. We don’t know if there were three or three hundred, we don’t know if they came from one place or converged from multiple places.
I read an article recently from a non-Orthodox source that conjectured that the magi came from the east, meaning Persia, and that perhaps these men came from a line of magi who had been introduced to the prophecies about Jesus centuries before by Daniel the Prophet when the Israelites were being held captive in Babylon. It is true that Daniel did prophecy about the coming Messiah, and would have been educated in the Scriptures. He had the pleasure of the king and would have had access to the men of the king’s court, including his wise men. We also know that a star figured prominently in the prophecies and so these wise men, who studied the stars, would have been looking for the star as a sign for the promised Messiah. And after generations of waiting, just like the Jews had been waiting, the magi perhaps recognized this star, the brightest of all stars ever, and believed this was the sign that the Messiah had been born. The Bible, as I said, does not give out much background information on the magi. However, it does reveal that when the magi arrived in Jerusalem, they went right to the king and asked about the King of the Jews—they knew who they were looking for. They had a goal. They knew something. Did they know they would find a two-year old? Did they think He was going to be a military conqueror? Seems that they would not have had the complete story. No one did.
We know that the journey of the magi lasted two years. They did not arrive at the manger on the night of the Nativity. We know this because Herod asked the magi what time they had seen the star and that he wanted them to report back to him after they found the new “king” so he could go and worship Him also. When the magi did not return, Herod ordered the death of all male children age two and under “according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.” (Matthew 2:16) Matthew 2:11 says that as the magi went “into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother.” So they were not present at the manger and they met Jesus as a child, not as a babe.
There was some motivation for the magi to make their journey. They weren’t just journeying for an unknown reason. But they also did not fully comprehend the journey they were on—how long it would last, where would it end, what would they find. It is fair to call them “seekers.” A “seeker” is someone who is looking for something. Seeking implies movement. Seeking implies incompleteness, looking for something. Seeking implies desire, to find something, or learn something, or get to something. And seeking implies an open mind, to be filled with something known upon arrival somewhere, or arrival at new knowledge.
“Seeking” in my opinion has declined in the world today. People stand pat and are content to check boxes. While some people are out hustling and seeking better ways to do things, many people go through life almost in a haze, they just check the box on job, marriage, parenting, school. So many of our children do just enough to get by in school, rather than really seeking knowledge. And sadly, it’s the same way in our faith journey. Many people just go to church to check a box, even people who go regularly. Many people don’t go regularly, they aren’t really on a journey at all.
But let’s focus for a quick second on those who are faithful in being present for worship, for prayer, for Scripture reading. Do we see ourselves as seekers? The magi knew to follow a star, not knowing where it would lead them but open to the possibilities. We worship the Lord and so much of what we do is still based on faith. Do we go to worship in church with an open mind and heart, do we go as a seeker? When the priest calls the Holy Spirit down “upon us and upon these gifts here presented” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) when we are kneeling, do we pray for the Holy Spirit to come into us, or are we oblivious to the moment and its meaning? As we continue on our journey through life, specifically our journey to salvation, let us take the approach that we are seekers, and are thus open to the things that God will place on our minds and our hearts. Let’s take the seeker approach to worship, prayer and Scripture. And let’s take the seeker approach to life in general, that there is always a way to do something in a deeper, more meaningful and more God-focused way. And then let’s leave our hearts and minds open to the thoughts He will place in them.
This is our God; no other shall be compared to Him, who was born of a Virgin, and who lived among men. The only-begotten Son is seen, as a mortal, lying in a spare manger; and He, the Lord of glory, is wrapped in swaddling clothes. A star signals the Magi, to come and adore Him. And we, for our part, sing our hymns: “O Holy Trinity, save our souls!” (Idiomelon, 3rd Hour, Royal Hours of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: When is the last time you searched for something not knowing what you will find?