It may seem surprising that there is no birth narrative in Matthew. He tells us where Jesus is born, when He was born-in the reign of King Herod-and the fulfilment of the prophecy from Micah. Obviously, the wise men's trek did not see completion until Jesus was no longer a baby-see the word 'child' used in verse 11-and yet the family are still living in Bethlehem when they only journeyed there to fulfil the census' demands (Luke 2 v 1).
Now these wise men, also called 'Magi' or Kings...They were Medes, part of the Persian Empire, who had a similar role to the Levites with Israel. They were priests-no sacrifice could be offered unless one of the Magi was present- teachers, men of holiness and wisdom, skilled in dream interpretation, philosophy and medicine. They were star gazers, astrologers, interpreting the movement of the stars. It could have been that they observed Halley's comet or, as Phil surmised in his article in last week's newsletter, a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. The dog star Sirius rose on the first day of Mesori, one of the months of the Egyptian year and Mesori means 'birth of a prince'.
We don't know how many Magi came to see the new King, it was unlikely that it would only have been three, but they journeyed hundreds of miles to worship Him, probably starting their journey at Christ's birth and arriving when He was a toddler. What an extraordinary thing, to make that journey! However, we can read in articles of the time that there was a general expectation of the coming of a King and that this King would rule the world. Great writers such as Tacitus and Josephus wrote of this.
What has come to me with great emphasis this morning is that the wise men arrived at what may have been an entrance to a cave in Bethlehem (described as such by commentators living not long after Christ's death), met the Christ-child and WORSHIPPED HIM. They gave Mary their treasures and returned to their country satisfied that they had seen the One they had trekked so far to meet. No sense of anti-climax, they recognised that they were in the presence of greatness, even in those lowly circumstances.
The other thing which has struck me is that God was speaking. The Magi were in the position to understand what God was saying and responded: I wonder what we miss?