Friday, December 7, 2007

Christmas and the Magi

Magi is defined as the religious caste to which the Wise Men belonged. They traveled from the east to worship the infant Jesus. These men were not Jewish, so it is comforting right away to see that the salvation offered is for all mankind, extended to all people.

Since the early Middle Ages they have been called the Three Kings. Psalm 72:10 says "the Kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents". Isaiah 60:6 says "The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord". These Kings were given the names of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The Magi were a priestly caste, one of the six tribes of Media. They worshipped the elements, fire, air, earth, and water. The Magi wore white robes with a tall felt cap. They interpreted dreams and omens.

They are mentioned in Matt 2:1 as Wise Men come from the east. They went to the ruler of that land to ask after the child, continued the search on their own, and found the little family guided by a star. Jesus was now a young child and they were living in a house. It was there that the Wise Men presented their gifts; gold, frankincense and myrr. The gold was probably put to good use when the little family has to flee to Egypt from Herod, determined to kill any threat to his rule. The Wise Men had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod. This could well have come from the angel Gabriel. They had done what they came to do, and departed back to their own country.

Frankincense is the fragrant gum of a tree. It is white in color and was an ingredient in the holy anointing oil with which priests were consecrated. Pure frankinsense was poured upon the loaves of bread left on the altar. Most of those trees grew in India and along the coast of Africa and Arabia. The frankincense itself is a gum resin which dries into 'tears' often an inch long with a balsamic odor, reddish in color when burnt.

Myrrh is a fragrant substance, another ingredient in the oil used to anoint priests. At the crucifixion it was offered to Jesus in wine, probably to deaden pain. It was also used for imbalming the dead. The tree from whose bark it was produced grew in Arabia. These were costly and precious gifts, valuable for trading when the family lived so long in Egypt.

One wonders how this trip changed the Magi. They must have been highly motivated to have traveled so far. They wanted to see with their own eyes this special child. How devoted are we to honoring the Christ and the Christmas season? How far would we travel, even in thought, to be close to the Christ? Does it change your life to know those great tidings? How wise are we in the way we spend this day?

We move on next to the star. It had quite an impact on those who saw it and understood.

Go in peace.

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