Jesus’ birth was not a “surprise party”. God did not sneak up on men when he became a man. There had been prophecies of the Messiah from long before. The problem was that many Jews, especially their leaders, had ceased to care whether God would come among them or not.
Look what happened when the three “Magi” appeared in Jerusalem. There had long been prophecies that God would send his Messiah, his “anointed one”.
However, it was a big deal when these strangers from the East appeared in Jerusalem asking about a new king. Tradition says they were astrologers or kings. They may have been part of a priestly caste from Persia. It is very clear that they were not Jews. This has become very important to Christians because it means that the Messiah came for all men.
The coming of the Messiah was always held to be prophetically true for Jews; but in the future, not now! Few wanted it to happen now. They had a tough enough time with prophets! But the prophecies were preserved and well known to the Jews.
When King Herod found out about the arrival of these three Magi asking,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”
Herod and the Jewish leaders were “greatly troubled”. It’s almost as if their response was, “Oh, no! Not now!”
Then Herod, not wanting any new kings began checking,
“Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, … inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
They knew about the prophecy of their Messiah. They knew where he would be born, in Bethlehem. But, did they go look for him? No! They didn’t want it to happen! “Oh, no! Not now!” God can be really inconvenient!
The coming of the Magi to seek the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one of God, is important because it shows that God’s coming among men could not be kept a secret. It could not be silenced. If the Jews didn’t want to see the fulfillment of their own prophecies, God would send foreigners to reveal his coming among the Jews. God cannot be silenced. The Messiah was revealed to the world by the coming of non-Jewish strangers. God promised the Messiah. God sent the Star at the birth of Jesus. God sent the three Magi to reveal his coming among men. For the Jews, Jesus’ coming wasn’t a secret or unanticipated.
God had long determined to come among men as Immanuel. He had to choose some specific people through whom to be born and with whom to be revealed. He chose the Jews to make his Covenant with them. This Covenant meant that he made them into his family. He didn’t do this to simply become the private God of the Jews. God created all men, and wanted all men to be saved. But the Jews didn’t see themselves as missionaries to the whole world for God, the light of the world, the salt of the earth. However, Jesus became a Jew. Jesus chose Jews to send out to the world as his apostles. The salvation of the world came through the Jews. The Jewish people will always be part of our Salvation History, and held in high esteem by Christians. Despite the actions of some at the time of Jesus, they are our “big brothers” in faith. We stand on their shoulders. God’s promises to us were made first to the Jews.
The Magi performed a huge favor for future Christians. Not being Jews, the Magi revealed the baby Jesus to the world, and the Jews. After the Magi departed and returned to their own country, Herod sent soldiers with instructions to kill every child under two years old. This event is known as “the slaughter of the Holy innocents”, the first martyrs. God foresaw this, and sent an angel to warn Joseph to take Mary and baby Jesus to Egypt to escape from Herod’s soldiers.
God’s revelation of himself and his plans for us cannot be covered up or ignored. Herod tried. Herod failed.
Jesus’ birth was the greatest event in the history of mankind. The event was so great that all historical time is now counted as time before Jesus’ birth (“B.C”) and after Jesus’ birth (A.D., or “anno domini”, year of our Lord. The time before was when Death ruled the world. In the time after Jesus’ coming, Death was defeated. What other human event could be the center of our time?
The role of the three Magi showed the early Christians that Jesus did not come only for the Jews, but for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus is the “King of Kings”, the “Lord of Lords” who came as a small child; little, but great, “Emmanuel”, “God with us”.
It is a wonderful mystery that Christ came to a specific people, in a specific generation. As St. Paul says of this revelation of our salvation,
It was not made known to people in other generations
as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Christmas is not merely a season, but a celebration of the center of human history, when human life was changed forever. Merry Christmas!