Matthew gives a detailed account of the visit of the wise men from the east after the birth of Jesus. These wise men probably were from Mesopotamia, the region of ancient Babylon. There are numerous accounts of ancient astrologers interpreting astronomical phenomena as heralding the birth of kings. The wise men refer to having seen Jesus’ star when it rose. This might have been a planetary conjunction, a supernova or something purely supernatural. Whatever the case, it alludes to the star of Jacob (Num. 24:17). Here, Balaam predicts the future advent of a royal conqueror. “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
Whoever these men were and wherever they came from, they stated their purpose clearly when they asked King Herod, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
In Matthew 2:11, we read, “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother and they fell down and worshiped him.” We then read that they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Why these particular gifts? We are not told, but only left to imagine. There are many explanations, but perhaps the most widely accepted is as follows.
Gold is a gift you would give a king. Whenever one king of lesser strength had to pay tribute to a stronger king, the exchange was always made in gold. Frankincense is a gift you would give a God. Frankincense was part of the scared anointing oil. It was used as a sacrificial offering, as a fumigant during animal sacrifices and as a perfume. Myrrh is a perfume and was used as an anointing oil and for embalming as well as a medicine for relief of pain.
The role of the star in Matthew 2 suggests a connection with astrology. These astrologers pursuing their observations of the stars encountered a sign from God. God made this event known to them. The most important part of the account is not who these men were or where they came from or why. The most important point is that “They (the wise men) fell down and worshiped him.” This is in stark contrast to King Herod who was “troubled.”
We now are in the advent season, moving toward the celebration of the birth of Christ. Make this season a time of worship, not a time of indifference.
David Bilderback is a Greeley resident.