Today’s Reading: Matthew 2:1-6 NIV
There is so much joy and anticipation of new life as we await the birth of a child. In remembering the birth of my sons, the feeling of promise and hope is palpable even now. And these feelings move beyond parents and into their community. The births of our children were celebrated by our family, friends, and church community with gifts, meals, and cards. And of course, everyone wanted to hold the new baby.
In the first chapter of Matthew, Jesus’ birth is highlighted as the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a savior. The promise is fulfilled in a dramatic, seemingly unlikely way as a virgin gives birth and her husband learns the identity of his Son in a dream. In the second chapter, Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is God’s Promised King, in an equally surprising way. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ birth was of such importance that an unlikely group of people, pagan scholars known as magi, came to find this Promised King and worship Him.
The Magi were most likely diplomats from Persia (Matthew 2:1 – “from the east”). In their role as scholars they combined astronomical observation with astrological speculation (v. 2). As they looked to the stars for guidance they saw something new. A star came to prominence which they followed to a new king. In fact, when they arrived in Jerusalem, they asked King Herod, the current ruler, where is the one whose birthright makes him “king of the Jews.”
Matthew sets us up to see the contrast between two kings: King Herod and God’s Promised King. As the story progresses, we find that king Herod rules with ruthlessness (v. 3), deception (vv. 7-8), and violence (v. 16). But God’s promised King would lead the people of Israel as a shepherd (v. 6). Here Matthew quotes from the prophet Micah through whom God promised a king who would shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord (Micah 5:4) and be our peace (Micah 5:5).
So much of Advent is about anticipation. In the birth of Jesus, we find the fulfillment of all of our longings. All of us long for someone who will lead us into real life and real peace. We want to find an object for our hopes. Whether we are near to Christ like Mary and Joseph, or far from Him like the Magi, we all want to find a resting place for our hopes. In this story, Matthew is showing us that the One we have hoped for has arrived. God’s Promised King was born in Bethlehem not to rule with an iron fist but to give His life for His people.
The phrase “king of the Jews” used here by the Magi is used again in Matthew’s gospel. It is the charge made by the Romans as the reason Jesus was crucified (Matthew 27:37). We may be looking elsewhere for our sense of peace and wholeness, but advent is an opportunity to refocus our eyes on Jesus as God’s Promised King, and the rightful object of our hope. He is the Promised King that offers us peace. He is the King who did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. This King gave His life so that we might have peace with God. Wherever we have turned to find peace and wholeness, let us turn back to Jesus this Advent.