Thursday, May 3, 2007

Matthew 2

"On coming to the house, they [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him."
~ Matthew 2:11a

O exalted faith of the Magi! Jesus, newly born, "one healthy, little giggling, dribbling baby boy" according to Dave Matthews, would not be a fit subject of worship in respectable Jewish thought; the Levitical priesthood waited for the Messiah to come in power, but Jesus came in weakness. Fittingly enough, then, the first ones to worship Jesus as God Himself are obscure men "from the East" (v.1) who appear nowhere else in the Gospels. They alone recognized God's sign of the star when all Israel remained ignorant.

Even worse, tradition holds that the Magi were astrologers - a disreputable practice in first-century Judaism. The Pharisees absolutely forbade it, based on an expansive reading of Deuteronomy 18:10-13. In his very infancy, Jesus drew near to him outcasts and lawbreakers, just as he would do during his public ministry.

The Magi's visit, however, has an unforeseen consequence: King Herod hears of the birth of the Messiah. This leads to an extraordinary scene (vs. 4-5). Herod urgently asks, "Where is the Messiah to be born?" The chief priests and teachers of the law nonchalantly answer him, "Oh, in Bethlehem." Unlike the Jews of Jerusalem, Herod, to his credit, understands that the Messiah might well be in his midst. To his everlasting shame (and, quite possibly, to his eternal torment), Herod's gut reaction is to kill him.

Of course, God's plan triumphs over Herod's petty scheming. The Magi hear and heed a dream to return home by another route. Joseph, as in Chapter 1, hears an angel's call to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt, where the family remains for several months. But all is not well; Herod, though the Messiah eludes his grasp, pitilessly slaughters all the boys of Bethlehem two years old and younger (v.16). Herod's decision to deny Jesus'
Messianic reality causes an act of senseless, tyrannical brutality.

Tonight's prayer: Almighty God, you give all humans have one of three choices: to remain ignorant of the Messiah like the chief priests and scholars of Jewish law, to know him and reject him like King Herod, or to know him and worship him like the Magi. Help us to adopt the humility of the Magi, who traveled hundreds of miles just to kneel and give good gifts before our Lord and Savior in the cradle. As we go forth and do your Son's work, let us be overjoyed by your presence (v.10). Amen.

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