CM – Epiphany: Wise Men or Clumsy Talkers?


In the movie Father of the Bride Part II, the wedding planner and his assistant sing a song about every party that has a party pooper. The bride’s father spoils the wedding celebration for his daughter. Franc and Howard corner George Banks and sing: « Every party needs a pooper. That’s why we invited you. Party pooper! Party pooper! »

In the Gospel of Matthew, the wise men of King Herod spoil the party. All they want is to visit the baby, have a mug of Mary’s mulled wine, have a Mediterranean mince pie, and hand in their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But they ruined Herod’s party in the process and made him a nervous wreck.

Herod was a born leader. At the age of 25, his father made him governor of Galilee. In 40 BC Herod was crowned king of Judea. The Roman Senate made him « King of the Jews ». Herod created a dynasty that would rule Judea and Palestine for over 140 years.

The newborn church survived its first 70 years under the Herodian dynasty, and the names of various Herod appear from time to time in the New Testament. </ Herod's greatest talent was his architectural talent. Like Pharaoh in Moses' day, Herod started the greatest building projects of his time. He built cities, palaces, ports, irrigation projects, theaters and amphitheaters, hippodromes and fortresses. He brought the five-year Olympic Games to Judea. He rebuilt the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and made sure it was larger than the original temple built by Solomon. To keep his colonial rulers happy, Herod also built a temple in honor of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.

Herod was ruthless. But to rule the Middle East one had to be ruthless. By and large, his rule brought prosperity. He cut taxes twice (once by a third, another time by a quarter). Herod had a formidable personality, extraordinary intellect, great physical strength, astute political skills, and an indomitable will. No wonder he came to be known as « Herod the Great. »

However, Herod the Great was « troubled » when he heard the news of a young baby (Matthew 2: 3). The Vulgate translates « restless » as « turbatus, » and the same word is used to describe the turbulence of a stormy sea. The good news of the birth of Jesus was bad news for Herod.

What worries some people about Jesus? From Emperor Nero to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, from Emperor Domitian to the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, Herod had a number of successors that worried the Baby of Bethlehem.

Herod received the first Christmas card in history. He responded by letting his dog loose on the postman. He was worried. The wise men had ruined his party.

For this reason, I hate to refer to them as « wise men ». When you enter the capital of a country and the king of that country calls you and asks you why you came to visit his country, you must be really very foolish to say to the king, « Hail, King. I am looking a child who was just born the king of your country so that I can greet them as the king of your country. « 

We do not know whether the magicians were three wise men or kings. We associate these shadowy figures with three kings because the prophet Isaiah speaks of « kings coming to the splendor of your dawn » and bringing gold and incense with them (Isaiah 60: 3). Psalm 72 speaks of the kings of Tarshish, Saba and Seba bringing gifts. But the Gospel of Matthew simply calls them magicians. Matthew also tells us that they came from the east.

Back then, westerners associated easterners with all forms of low life, from superstition to prostitution. The wise men of the west paid little attention to the wise men of the east. The Roman intellectuals of Jesus’ day despised magicians who came from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Arabia.

The Roman historian Tacitus called them « absurdities ». The Roman philosopher Seneca laughed at the magicians who foretold the death of Emperor Claudius « every year, every month ». The Roman administrator Pliny said he intended to « refute the deceitful lies of magicians. »

Even the Bible has nothing good to say about magicians. Astrology is strictly forbidden in the Old Testament. In the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar’s magicians fail miserably when asked to interpret the king’s dream (Daniel 2: 2-10). In the Acts of the Apostles, the magician Bar-Jesus is referred to by the apostle Paul as « the son of the devil » (13: 8). The words « magic » and « magician » are derived from the words « magician » and « magic ». The magicians were generally viewed as Mickey Mouse wizards rather than true wise men.

Then what made the Magi to follow the star? Astronomers have suggested two possible scenarios. First, the star of Bethlehem could have been Halley’s Comet, dating from 12-11 BC. Appeared. Second, and more likely, it was the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that occurred in 7 BC. Crossed three times. Since Jupiter was the « royal » or « royal » planet and Saturn was viewed as the representative of the Jews, the Three Wise Men would have deduced that a new King of the Jews would be born. Since the magicians came from Babylon (Persia), they would have known of the messianic expectation of the Jews who were exiled there.

But why did they go to Jerusalem? Why not to Bethlehem? Maybe they weren’t so wise after all? A few years ago, a cartoon by Holt appeared in the December issue of Punch magazine. The cartoon showed the wise men on their way to the manger. Suddenly they stop and one of them points to a light in the sky. In the caption under the drawing he says to his companions: « Simply our luck! A one-star hotel! »

Bethlehem was a one-star hotel – an obscure, insignificant city. Even the prophet Micah, who foretold that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, described Bethlehem as « too small to belong to the clans of Judah » (Micah 5: 2). Jerusalem was the five-star hotel – the holy city, the royal city, the capital. Where else would a king be born if not in the capital of his kingdom? The so-called wise men unwisely take their eyes off the star and take the road to Jerusalem. The results are disastrous. Her stupidity draws Herod’s attention to a possible threat.

The foolish question of the magicians to Herod: « Where is he who was born as King of the Jews? » is political dynamite. Herod, not Jesus, is the reigning « King of the Jews ». It was installed by the greatest empire in history.

The words « King of the Jews » only appear four times in the Gospel of Matthew – once on the manger and three times on the cross. The birth of Jesus becomes an indication of his death. On Epiphany, the baby Jesus is threatened by Herod. On Good Friday, the adult Jesus is threatened by Pontius Pilate – the Roman governor. Pilate will ask Jesus the crucial question: « Are you the King of the Jews? » Jesus will answer: “You said so” (Matthew 27:11). The Roman soldiers then mockingly address Jesus as « King of the Jews ».

On Epiphany, the Three Kings opened their thesaurus (the Greek word for treasure chest) and presented Jesus with gifts in the form of gold, frankincense and myrrh. On Good Friday, the Roman soldiers offered Jesus completely different gifts – a crown of thorns as a crown, a reed as a scepter and the cross as a throne. Instead of a bright star it becomes pitch dark (Matthew 27:45).

But how God revealed himself to the Gentiles, the wise, in his manger at Epiphany; On Good Friday, God revealed himself to another Gentile, a Roman centurion, who would make the greatest declaration in human history: « Verily, this man was the Son of God! » (Matthew 27:54).

Matthew asked us to listen carefully and prayerfully to the whole story. Herod had good press from historians of his time; the three kings were slandered by the intellectuals of their time. Herod was politically wise; the three kings were politically naive. Herod had the Scriptures as his guide; the magicians had nature as their guide. Herod stalked the corridors of power; the three wise men walked on the fringes of society. Herod built magnificent buildings; the magicians made room for God in their hearts. Herod tried to commit suicide and died in frustration; The Three Wise Men returned home with great joy.

Perhaps they were wise men after all. In biblical literature, wisdom is the ability to make correct decisions, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1: 7). All in all, the Mickey Mouse magicians are wise and Herod the Great a fool.

Listen carefully and prayerfully to the whole story. Go the path from the manger to the cross. Keep an eye on the stars and the scriptures. The heavens proclaim the glory of God, but the word of God is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path.

Be wise. Make the right decisions. Decide for yourself who is King of the Jews and who is King of your life. Even if the journey may be long and difficult, even if you will meet crazy, murderous and megalomaniac Herod on your journey, even if you make foolish mistakes, you will come to Jesus on every path.

Then, if you do When you have reached the Nativity, bow to Him as your King, open your thesaurus, and offer Him the best gifts you can find. And the best gift you can give is yourself.

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