The Story of Jesus’ Baby Shower

A Christian Perspective

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The Story of Jesus’ Baby Shower
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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January 6 is known in the Christian calendar as Epiphany and marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas, the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, and the story of the visit of the three wise men, which just might be described as Jesus’ baby shower. Matthew 2.1-12.

The story of Jesus’ baby shower has come down to us as the story of three wise kings. But as the story is told by Matthew, the only version we have in the Bible, there is no number of kings mentioned, there are no names mentioned and they are not kings.

So who were these folk from the east who followed a star to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus?

The word used in the Greek text that has been passed down to us is Magi. The word finds its origin in the priestly caste of the Zoroastrian faith, who were wise in the way of the stars, hence the link to astrology. The legendary names Melchior (a Persian scholar), Caspar (an Indian scholar), and Balthazar (an Arabian scholar), attributed to the magi, have their origin in Greek texts from the years 500 and 700 ACE.

The story is one of the most powerful stories in the gospel. Some describe it as ‘the entire gospel crammed into a few paragraphs.’ What does it have to teach us?

Verse 1:

In the time of King Herod after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea

  • The time of King Herod was a time of occupation of Israel by the Romans
  • Under Roman rule the people were exiles in their own land.
  • It was a powerless time for Israel.

wise men from the east

  • The magi came from those parts of the world that are considered among the most threatening today.
  • Foreigners play an important part in the history of the people of Israel.  Matthew begins with a genealogy which subtly raises up the names of foreign women in the lineage that leads to Jesus.  Here too, we see that foreigners are included.

came to Jerusalem

The court of the vassal King Herod was where the power of Rome was rooted.

Verse 2:

Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?

  • This was bad news for Herod. It was the first recognition of Jesus as king of the Jews, a threat to Herod’s and therefore Rome’s power
  • This image of king of the Jews (which was never asserted by Jesus) reappears at the crucifixion – book ends to Jesus’ life.

observed his star at its rising

  • All creation recognizes Jesus’ birth.

 have come to pay him homage

  • The gifts they brought were standard offerings to honor a king or deity in the ancient world.
  • Right from the beginning, there is a recognition that non Jews are included in this event – foreshadowing Matthew 28.18-19:“All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.” (The authority of the star) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  (Go find those magi and their people.)
  • This is a world shaking event – beyond the boundaries humans put upon it.

Verse 3:

Herod was frightened – and all Jerusalem with him.

  • We know why Herod was frightened, but what about those living in Jerusalem, wouldn’t they be heartened, excited to welcome this new king?  If they weren’t, it could only be because they had adapted to the occupation.  Exiles in their own land, but having adapted, they were doing business, living their lives, used to the familiar pattern of their days.  What would a new king do?

Verse 4:

Calling together the chief priests and scribes of the people

  • Herod knew the ropes.  He checked with those in the know, the ones with the most to lose by upsetting the apple cart, by the way.

 

He inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

  • Messiah means the Christ, the anointed one.

Verse 5:

In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophets

  • They knew their stuff.

Verse 6:

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.

Combines Micah 5.2 with II Samuel 5.2.

Micah 5.2: The Ruler from Bethlehem

2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

2 Samuel 5.2

2For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.’

Verses 7-8:

The plot of Herod: find him so I can worship too.

  • The empire strikes back as Herod, Rome’s puppet, and Jerusalem’s settled elite respond negatively. Herod employs military, religious, and social resources and strategies to thwart God’s work. His actions demonstrate the oppressive structures from which Jesus is to save the world.

Verses 9-10:

  • The wise men search and find and rejoice.

Verse 11:

They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

  • They  brought gold, a precious metal, frankincense, perfume or incense and myrrh, an anointing oil used to prepare bodies for burial.
  • While recognizing Jesus’ authority, the inclusion of myrrh also foreshadowed his death.

Verse 12:

Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

What have we learned?

  • The best of the world’s wisdom acknowledges the Christ.
  • The Gospel is to be taught to all nations.
  • This is a celebration of inclusiveness. The stranger has gifts to offer.

What questions does the story of the magi challenge us with?

  • Are we exiles in our own country, adapting to a culture of materialism, as Pope Francis has alleged?
  • By what are we held captive?
  • To what have we adapted?
  • Can we, like the magi, knowledgeable and educated, offer ourselves and our gifts?

If God had magi — foreign astrologers — come as the first to recognize and give Jesus proper respect as the King of Jews, we should know that there is nothing in our lives that would keep God from bringing us to Jesus — and if there’s nothing in our lives to keep us away from Jesus, then there is nothing in the lives of others we meet every day that will keep us away from Jesus. We have nothing to fear by our encounter with the world as long as we know to whom we belong.

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