Magi from the East travel, kneel, worship and present three gifts to baby Jesus: gold, the gift of kings; frankincense, the gift of divinity; and myrrh, the spice for burial.
This familiar narrative, found in Matthew 2, is the focal text for Epiphany (Jan. 6), which was observed by many congregations during their services yesterday.
When we read this story, we often think there is only one set of Magi, but there is another.
Both sets are highly religious, highly educated and have a vastly different reaction to the spiritual dimension present in the narrative.
Let’s start with the Magi from the East. They’re the Kings of Orient, the astronomers, the ones who make it to baby Jesus.
They see the alluring call of God in the form of a star and follow it. They first land in Jerusalem, asking where to go next, which shows us they are intelligent, but they don’t know Scripture.
They aren’t Jewish. They haven’t been steeped in the stories of old. They couldn’t tell you the difference between Micah and King David.
They aren’t locals. They don’t know the geography but feel compelled to follow the call of God and to worship their newborn king.
And, as it turns out, God still works this way.
You may feel like you’ve been traveling the road of spirituality for some time but are not really sure where you are going. That is OK.
Do what the Magi from the East do; keep going. Keep following Bethlehem’s star and, when appropriate, surround yourself with people of faith. They will point you to Christ.
This is what the Magi from the East do. It takes asking the religious leaders in Jerusalem to get the final piece of their puzzle. They needed to know an ancient prophesy from Micah to learn that the star was over Bethlehem.
This brings up a great point that the Magi from the East teach us: Faith is a quest. You have to follow and participate in it in order to experience it.
The second set of Magi is from the West. They’re the Jewish priests and scribes, who are called upon by King Herod.
Matthew 2:3-4 says, “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.”
These priests and scribes know the prophecies of old but do not follow the star. They do not quest, and this is noteworthy.
Here is a group of educated superiors who have been steeped in the stories of old.
They know who God is, and they definitely know the differences between Micah and King David.
They literally know where the newborn King is born but do not go visit. Why not?
It is sad to even ask this question because the answer is clear: They’re afraid.
In 2020, let’s strive not to be like the Magi from the West. Do not settle on what you think you already know about God and call that faith. Do not let your apathy – or fear – stifle your attempt at getting to Jesus.
Faith is a quest. To go on it, you have to give yourself the freedom to admit you do not have it all figured out, and it is OK to open your soul to mystery and intrigue.
The dichotomy of these two sets of Magi is important. The Magi from the East know how to embrace mystery, while the Magi from the West refuse to do so out of fear. And guess which group makes it to Christ?
So here’s an honest question we need to answer: Which set of Magi are we? Are we from the East or the West? Are we open to mystery? Or are we stuck, rooted in an unmovable faith?
Answer this honestly because it will tell you the direction you are headed in 2020.
J. Barrett Owen is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Waynesboro in Waynesboro, Virginia. He is a member of the EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors.