It could be said, and should be admitted, I’ve preached on this scripture text every year since I first took on the role of pastor in a church. Counting back, we’re talking five churches and some 27 Epiphany Sunday services. On a few of those occasions, the service actually fell on the traditional 12th day after Christ was born but, this year we’re two days short. No matter. The journey and visit of the wise men is certainly worth repeating.
There’s a lot to be said here and lots has been said, some of which rests on tradition and legend rather than fact and a truth based on actual events. We take liberties with the story, don’t we? For example, there’s never a mention of three wise men just three gifts – Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. We assume the ones carrying those gifts equal the number of gifts offered. And there’s no meeting up of wise men and baby Jesus in a stable; just a brief word, which lets us know the place where the wise men do find Jesus…now described as a child and not an infant takes place in a house and not a stable. Herod is still very much in the picture, still trying to terrorize and control a situation in which the true power lies in a divinity and faith Herod has long since abandoned.
So, in our reading, we find clues about these wise ones, described more appropriately as Magi…not makers of magic but Babylonian astrologers…learned students of the stars. They are, at least in regard to their own knowledge and expertise wise but decidedly clueless over the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and its implications for a major power struggle between Herod, a corrupt puppet power and wanna-be king and the true power of the divine One, the very one who placed those glorious stars in the sky at the very beginning of creation. Initially, they become players in Herod’s scheme to destroy Jesus. They make a promise to return to Herod with news of their journey to find for the Christ child. Fortunately, the return to Herod is derailed. They are warned of Herod’s intentions and urged to return home by another way.
We get caught up a bit when we hear of the extravagant gifts brought to Jesus…gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. They are indeed priceless gifts and yet gifts far less valuable than the true gift offered by the wise men…their very presence. They came from a long distance to pay homage to an unknown child of a foreign nation and faith following the urging of a divine whisper hidden the movements of the stars and planets. What they found in their hearts was of far more value than what they carried in their hands. As it should be.
There’s a wonderful story entitled A Camel on the Roof. It concerns a king of what would now be northern Afghanistan whose name was Ebrahim ibn Adam. Now Ebrahim was wealthy in material goods but what he wanted was to be spiritually wealthy too. “One night the king was roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: ‘Who’s there?’
‘A friend,’ came the reply from the roof. ‘I’ve lost my camel.’ Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: ‘You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?’
‘You fool!’ the voice from the roof answered. ‘Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?’”
Well, these words filled the king with such terror that he arose from his sleep to become a most remarkable saint. So here’s a story, which reminds us to that the magi didn’t idly read their stars and wonder about the possibilities. That took action. They planned their trip, loaded their camels with supplies, packed what food and needs they might have to make their journey and they stepped out…in faith…to follow a distant star and an ancient promise.
As we too must do. Following the promise of faith and hope, seeking a relationship with divine reality and carrying more than what we can hold in our hands but most importantly, what we have in our hearts – a desire to make a connection and see God incarnate. Emmanuel…God with us. Amen.
 Homiletics, January 6, 1991 a commentary on the scripture Matthew 2:1-12, p. 1