Matthew 2:9-12 “After they (the magi, or “wisemen”) had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
On January 6 we celebrate The Epiphany, the coming of the Magi to find Jesus. It is difficult to express in English the great joy these visitors from the East experienced. Our translators simply tell us they were “overjoyed.” This was the most joyful of times for them, and not just because they saw the star. It was not the star, after all, that they were here for. Their joy was in the prospect of finally meeting the Christ child. Jesus himself was their joy.
Their joy wasn’t because Jesus had made their lives fantastically easier. They still had a very long journey ahead of them before they reached home. There was an angry, dangerous king to avoid. Their joy wasn’t because Jesus had suddenly showered them with earthly wealth. In just a short time this same child was going to relieve them of some very expensive gifts. Their joy wasn’t so much because of what they had in this world, but because of what they had in their hearts. They were on the verge of seeing their Savior and their King. Their joy speaks of the great value they placed upon him.
Isn’t that what real Christian joy is about? It is true that Jesus may give us the joy of having some of the things we want, or solving some of our problems, or smoothing some of our difficulties. But for all the things we must do without, the problems that don’t go away, and the difficulties we have to bear, isn’t Jesus himself the real joy? He has given us himself: his love in God’s grace, his life in payment for our sins. These things will never grow less. They can never be taken away. Jesus himself is our true treasure and having him gives us joy.
That is what leads the Magi, these truly wise men, to the next step. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” We aren’t used to seeing the kind worship the Magi offered here. They expressed the great value this child had with their entire bodies. Their bows were not the polite half-bend with which people in Asia greet each other. They got down on their knees in front of the child. They put their faces on the floor. They were saying to him, “You are great and worthy, and we are small and low.”
We don’t have to imitate their body language to share the value they found in the Christ child. When we come to worship in a spirit of humility and brokenness, when we humbly confess our sins and trust Christ for forgiveness, when we keep our focus on Jesus and his wonderful works of love, then we will know this child’s true value. Our worship will lift us up, even if in spirit we are down on our knees.
We may be tempted to measure the value these men placed on Jesus by the treasures they brought. But we find a greater indication in our closing verse. “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” More than God wanted their offerings, he wanted hearts that obeyed him. Perhaps you remember the words the Prophet Samuel once spoke to King Saul: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
The Magi avoided Herod as God had told them. The gifts they had given weren’t an empty, outward show. They were a reflection of the value Christ held in their hearts, hearts that gave God their obedience as well.
It’s still true that those who value Jesus will be careful to obey him. Our hearts may not be much of a treasure to give him. Our obedience is shaky and inconsistent at best. But God takes these things anyway. That itself is a gift of his grace, and only adds to the real treasure he has led us to find.