For most of us, the visit of the Magi, the wise men, are kind of an anticlimactic part of the Christmas story. After all (and contrary to what every nativity scene on earth shows) they weren’t even there when Christ was born. They didn’t show up until months later, distant relatives who missed the party. They’re usually portrayed as comic relief in kids’ Christmas plays, and other than the fact that they’re remembered for giving the first Christmas gifts (and we’re all about the gifts, aren’t we?), they’re actually kind of an afterthought for us.
But, oh how wrong we are. For you and me, they’re the BEST part of the Christmas story.
The wise men are believed by some to have been Zoroastrians, a religion that had its origins in eastern Iran in the 6th century B.C. Zoroastrians worshipped the creator, Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated creator to whom all worship is properly directed. He created truth and order. The antithesis is chaos and disorder and falsehood. He will ultimately prevail over the evil Angra Mainyu, at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end. At the end of time, a savior, the Saoshyant, will come to bring about this renovation, returning the dead to life and reuniting them with Ahura Mazda. Sound familiar?
Throughout human history to this point, God’s revelation, His favor, His reaching out to man was through the Jews. “Isaac I have loved, Ishmael I have hated”; “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated”. Time and time again, against Assyrians and Chaldeans and Philistines, and Egyptians, even when he used those to discipline Israel, His favor returned and rested with His chosen. They delighted in His light, were loved and protected and provided for by Him.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, your ancestors and mine were digging mud huts, painting themselves blue and running around naked, killing each other. They were sacrificing their children and each other in unspeakable acts to demonic gods. They lived dark, dark lives, facing dark, dark fates. The full realization of the fallen world rested upon their shoulders. This is your birthright. This was your lot in life, your future.
…for this point in history, when Love became man. After God revealed Himself to the lowliest of the low among His people, His next step was to draw three pagans to Himself. And He didn’t bring an angel to appear before them, to set their theology straight and make sure they had all their ducks in a row before they came to Him. No. He used a star. Whether He made a real star shine brightly, or brought several planets into alignment to make this bright heavenly body-think about that—He moved gargantuan, celestial bodies, manipulated the universe, to send a message to three guys. And he used celestial bodies, the very things their screwed up belief system said were omens, showing them that the Saoshyant had come, and leading them to Him. In other words, He met them where they were; He reached down to them and drew them to Him. Their hearts were more important to Him than their orthodoxy. And, they responded to that irresistible call, which all men whose spirits are touched by the Spirit must always do. And, they worshipped Him for who He was, the humble child who had come to save the world.
We can argue over whether America is, or ever was, a Christian nation. But, the fact that there are any of us in America who call Jesus “Lord”, the fact that we are not still dead in our sin, is owing to this great Epiphany, to the gracious Hand of God in calling out our First Fathers, the Magi.
Today, when we say we had an “epiphany”, we mean a great idea, a revelation. But, like so many terms we diminish through overuse, that cheapens the word. The Great Epiphany was a gracious God literally moving the heavens to throw open the doors to His adopted children, even the pitiful, dirt-digging, blue, naked ones. Like you and me.