Star of Wonder©
Matthew 2:1-12
January 3, 2016
Dr. Sharlyn DeHaven Gates

This story of the three wise men who come to Bethlehem, following the star, is so familiar to us, isn’t it?  But, did you know that there were originally four wise men who were planning on bringing gifts to Jesus, the Christ-child?

Well, this video will tell us what happened.

3 Wisemen

Christmas Shopping by the Four Wise Men

And that, my dear friends, is how we ended up with three wise men and a little drummer boy!

The story of the wise men coming to visit Jesus is only found in Matthew, and Matthew doesn’t say that there were three wise men.  There could have been more – or less – but because there were three gifts, it has been assumed there were three men.

They are called magi – a Greek word meaning magician, or an astrologer who had special wisdom in reading the stars.  They were priestly sages – that is, they were very wise.  They were from the East, probably from Persia or Babylonia.

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the wise men began being called kings.  That title comes from a couple of Old Testament references. One is from Psalm 72:10-11:

May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

And from Isaiah 60, which our Call to Worship came from this morning, verse 3 says:

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

We have sung that song “We Three Kings of Orient Are” so many times.  The chorus says “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright.”

As I studied this text I found myself wondering about the star.  What was it?  Was it a comet, or a nova that exploded in the sky?

Some believe it was a time when several planets aligned with each other making it a very bright star – a star that seemed to move and then stop and move again.  I read that comets and planets can appear to stop, or move, when they are hidden behind the sun or moon for a time.

Whatever it was, there must have been something that made these sages desire to hop on their camels and journey a great distance with elaborate gifts.  I wonder how they knew they would find a King?

I read that in ancient times astrologers believed only royalty, or entire nations, had relevant horoscopes.  These astrologers would read the sky as if reading a book.  They did not so much tell the future, however; instead they would announce something they “read in the sky” that was occurring among people in whatever region over which the those stars had their impact – as in the star of Bethlehem in Judah.

Matthew says these astrologers went to Jerusalem first and found a king – Herod the Great, telling him that they had seen the star and believed it was leading them to the newborn King of the Jews.  They hoped he could help them find this King.

Last week I told you that Herod was a ruthless man.  I mistakenly said he was a non-Jew, although that was partially true.  Further study tells me that he was part Jew – his father being from a southern country called Idumea and his mother, the daughter of an Arab Sheik.

Herod was king because of a military conquest of the Jews and was backed by Rome for that reason.  Most of the Jews resented Herod’s rule.  They wanted a king who was fully Jewish.  They longed for a king like David, of Bethlehem.

But, Matthew tells us that, not only was Herod afraid, so was “all of Jerusalem.”  I wonder why?  I mean, we can easily see why King Herod was afraid.  He was afraid he could lose his power and authority.  But why would all of Jerusalem be afraid?

Was it really ALL of Jerusalem?  My guess is Matthew is referring to the Jewish leaders whom Herod went to and asked about the prophecy.

But, why would they be afraid when they supposedly had longed for the prophecy to be fulfilled – the one in Micah 5 that Matthew quotes: "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah … from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel."

And I wonder about that word homage.  What does that word mean and why, I wonder, does the New Revised Standard Version translate the verse using homage where all the other versions I looked at use the word worship.  It reads in verses 10-11:

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.

I did a little word study on that Greek word - Proskuneo’ that can be translated as either homage or worship.  The words homage and worship are closely related, but homage is somewhat different.

I found an interesting article written from The Young Peoples Dictionary of Scriptural and Religious Terms.  It says:

Homage describes a ritual which took place many years ago, when kings ruled over nations.
Feudal lords owned large estates and submitted their wealth and power to serving the king.
On these feudal estates, peasants lived and worked for the feudal lords and were called vassals.

To become a vassal, a peasant would present himself before the feudal lord of that region, and pay
homage to the lord … From that day the peasant, now a vassal of the lord, was responsible to fully obey
all that his lord required of him. In turn, he received protection, care, and a place to live, within the estate of his lord.”

Fred and I were discussing, last week, the possible reasons why the wise men would go so far away to worship this King of the Jews.  Fred had a theory that I found interesting, especially as I looked at this article that told about the word homage.

We know that the Israelites had been greatly oppressed, and even taken captive, by the Babylonians and had been in all kinds of turmoil with surrounding nations.  Fred suggested that maybe these wise sages – these astrologers from the East – perhaps even from Babylon – studied the stars and knew that something in them showed a new king of Israel being born.

Were they coming to pay homage – bowing down to submit themselves and their wealth – their gifts representing the wealth of the nation they were from – as a way to truly show a desire for peace?  That perhaps this King would not come after them because of what their nation had done to the Israelites years before?

It’s an interesting theory and the word homage makes sense if that is the reason.  It is an act of deep respect and acknowledgment of the authority of the one who is being honored.

At the same time – I wonder – when they arrived and saw this child – surely God revealed to them the amazing revelation of who Jesus really is.  And then, their bowing down to Him became both an act of paying homage and a genuine act of worship and adoration.

Epiphany - epiphaneia, means a manifestation of something.  It is to “see the light.”   It is to suddenly be able to see and understand something that seemed to be hidden before.

I wonder – did these wise men get there and suddenly see the light and know that this child – Jesus – was God incarnate – the Word made flesh?  Did the Holy Spirit reveal to them the truth that many others would never quite accept?

Isn’t it amazing that these Gentiles, who were considered pagans by the Jews, were the ones who recognized that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy that Israel had waited for for over 600 years?  And yet many of those same people – the Jews of Israel – could not accept or understand – could not comprehend that this was the Messiah.

The star – whatever it was, is a sign from God that symbolizes God’s initiative – God’s beckoning to all humankind to come and discover Immanuel – God with us.  It is a calling for the nations – for Judea and Israel, but it is also a calling for the Gentiles – the non-Jewish nations as well.

This star of wonder is a mystical light beckoning all who will follow to come pay homage and to worship the Light that is even brighter – the Bright and Morning Star, the Light of the World – Jesus, our Lord.

Today, we too, are called to follow the Light and to be lights as well.  Because we follow Jesus – the Light of the World – we have become lights ourselves so that regardless of how persistent the darkness of evil and terror might be – that darkness can never, ever overcome the light.  “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” (John 1:5)

“Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright:  Westward leading still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light!”

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