URC Daily Devotion 27 December 2023

St Matthew 2: 1 – 12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,  and have come to pay him homage.’  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


Such a disturbing episode in the “Christmas Story” reaches its terrible conclusion tomorrow on Holy Innocents Day.

It is so familiar that we can readily glide through it without fully coming to terms with it. We are so used to learning about devious and cruel tyrants in our own time, and the early readers of this Gospel lived under Roman Emperors all too similar to Herod the Great, that we become inured to the horror, so what is there to say?

Surely, we should like to know more about these magi, astrologers: taking the account at face value the “star” may have been a conjunction of planets before Herod’s death in 4 BC, aged about 68. We do not know where the visitors came from – “the East” is hardly specific; we do not know how many of them there were – leaving three gifts proves nothing – my generous daughter-in-law readily gives more than one item to nephews and nieces! What was their motivation – may we assume that they expected some reward for their effort? They came equipped with frankincense and myrrh, so useful in creating a mystic atmosphere and sense of mystery – as well as gold, a useful currency, perhaps gained from their trade.

Yet the story tells us that they were sensitive to being led by a greater power than that of the tyrant; on reaching their goal they worshipped, left behind the gold, frankincense and myrrh – tools of their trade? – and left by another route.

For me this last point is so significant. Their encounter with the holy family changed them, they took another route; when they returned to their own country, changed people, how would they be received and what tales would they relate?

Our encounter with the holy family should change us; should we not have a story to tell about the way our encounter with Jesus has changed us? 


Almighty God who led strangers to experience an encounter with the infant Jesus, and whose signs and words lead people of every age to him; we thank you for revealing Jesus Christ to us as Lord and Saviour, and guide us to share this revelation with others. Amen 


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