“When Jesus was born … there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:1).
There has been a great deal of confusion surrounding the visit of the wise men. What exactly are “wise men” anyway? The more accurate term is “Magi”—originally the name of a Persian priestly caste, but later this title was used widely for magicians and astrologers.
How many Magi were there? Traditionally, we think of three wise men, but this is not necessarily the case. Matthew does not tell us how many Magi there were—all we can be sure of is that there was more than one.
When did the Magi visit Jesus? You might think by watching a typical Sunday school Christmas performance that the Magi were right on the heels of the shepherds—arriving minutes after the actual birth—but this was not the case. Matthew says that when King Herod committed his massacre, he estimated that the “King of the Jews” was possibly as old as two years—and we read that he got this estimate from the Magi (Matthew 2:16).
These are the details surrounding the visit of the Magi, but there is much more for us to gain from this passage. We learn, more importantly, how we should respond to the presence of Christ.
The response of the Magi begins with the star over Bethlehem. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:10). The star, which was the indicator of the presence of the Christ child, caused the Magi to “rejoice.” And notice the emphasis Matthew gives us here—he reports that they “rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” How often does that describe us when we are in the presence of Christ? We must keep in mind that as believers, we are always in the presence of Christ. This, perhaps, is why the Apostle Paul insists that we should “Rejoice in the Lord alway” (Philippians 4:4).
This exhortation should not only challenge us, but it should also excite us—the Christian life is intended to be a joyful life. Yet as I say that, I realize that, for many people, Christmas is not a joyful time. It is during the Christmas season when we seem to most profoundly miss those people in our life who have passed on. It is during the Christmas season when we become more prone to anxiety and depression. It is during the Christmas season when we seem to worry most about finances. For these reasons, the Christmas season is not always a joy for every individual.
There is, however, a way to overcome the sadness and anxiety we experience this time of year. The way in which Christians are able to win back their joy is simply to rejoice in the presence of Christ. But in order to do this, we must first recognize that our difficulties begin when we focus on our circumstances rather than on our status as a child of God who is loved by the Creator of the universe.
Remember that Mary and Joseph were not overjoyed with their circumstances, either. It is true, neither Mary or Joseph rejoiced at the news of Mary’s pregnancy. Mary, as you know, was pregnant out of wedlock. “How shall this be?” she asked the angel (Luke 1:34). Joseph initially wanted to put Mary away quietly (Matthew 1:19). Mary was confused, Joseph wanted to break up—neither were happy with their circumstances.
But they began to have a change of heart. An angel convinced Joseph that he should not leave Mary, and Luke records Mary’s new perspective on things: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46–47). The lesson to be learned here is clear—the Christmas season will be most joyful, life will be most joyful, when we take our attention off our circumstances and learn to “rejoice in the Lord.”
The second response the Magi had to the presence of Christ was that they “worshipped Him” by giving Him “gifts.” Now we must ask, “How often are we moved by the presence of Christ to worship Him by bringing Him gifts?”
How are we to do that? What kind of gifts can we bring Christ? The Apostle Paul tells us plainly, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). Gold, frankincense, and myrrh might have been acceptable to the child Jesus, but Paul tells us we must present our very selves to the resurrected Christ.
Some Christians think their only responsibility is to scribble a check or to give a few hours of service here and there for the church. This is not what it means to worship Christ. Paul describes a “living sacrifice”—every part of our life should be a form of worship to God. That means your marriage, your role as a parent, your job—all of these things are to be treated as contexts for worshipping God.
For many of us, we leave church on Sunday so full of joy after an hour of worship only to have the rest of the week bring us stress. Why does this happen? This happens because when we leave church we often cease to worship God. If we could only comprehend how to worship God Monday to Saturday, then we might be the joyful Christians we should be.
Jesus Christ wants you. Jesus was born for you. Jesus died for you. And now Christ invites you to worship Him daily. The choice is yours, but know this—the key to true joy is found in worshipping Jesus Christ.
—Bryn MacPhail, condensed