Matthew 2:1-23, Jeremiah 31:15-20
As soon as Thanksgiving is over, nativity scenes start popping up everywhere. They sit on fireplaces, shelves, and underneath Christmas trees. Some are huge, lighting up people’s yards. In my town, there are always “living nativity scenes” complete with live sheep, oxen, and camels. And even though they most assuredly showed up some two years later (see Matthew 2:16), the wise men from the east are almost always included in these scenes, bowing to the manger, right beside shepherds.
Some people get worked up about this. But I’m actually okay with it. The timing doesn’t bother me one bit. You see, I think Matthew includes this story for a very good reason, and those wise men in our nativity scenes tell the story really well.
You see, only Matthew, the tax-collector-turned-apostle, tells the story of “wise men from the east” who saw the star and made the journey to Jerusalem. Why, though? As an eyewitness to Jesus’s ministry and one who would have been able to get firsthand accounts of all that happened before he joined his Master, Matthew wanted to communicate to his own people the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. He wanted to make sure they knew who Jesus was inviting into His kingdom.
In the birth narrative, Matthew includes a group of Gentiles who came to worship the promised Messiah-King. We have little reason to think they were worshippers of Yahweh prior to this journey to Jerusalem. So what was the Holy Spirit, through the particular experience of Matthew, wanting the original audience, and now us, to see?
Jesus came to save the outsiders. His first recorded worshippers outside of Mary and Joseph are shepherds, among the lowest of society in the Jewish world. And then next in line are these guys from the east.
Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees,
they worshiped him (v.11).
By the time Matthew wrote his story of Jesus, Gentiles were flooding into the Church while Jews were barely trickling in, to put it mildly. So Matthew, by the power of the Holy Spirit, wanted to make sure his readers understood Jesus had come to save outsiders. And those outsiders include Gentiles.
For those of us who have grown up in the church, this is not always easy to understand. We are now insiders. But we need this reminder, and those wise men in the nativity scene can help us here. When you see those magi from the east, let them be a reminder that Jesus did not come for those who have it all together. He came for the outsiders.
Written by Matt Redmond