George has said  that if you wish to alter the first line to something like ‘In many churches there are windows depicting..’ that’s fine by him. (left click on window to for a downloadable image.

In All Saints we have the window opposite depicting the presentation of gifts by the 3 wise men, kings, or Magi, depending on your view. The visit of the Magi is commemorated by the observance of Epiphany on the 6th January.

But who are these people who have given us such a magnificent example of faith, just imagine what it would take for you to pack up and follow your belief. Think of how long they must have been travelling.  Just looking at the map we can see that the distance between from Babylon to Bethlehem is about 600 miles.  Such a distance by camel must have taken many months, and that’s without any preparation, and pondering on the reason for the star appearing.

Matthew (2:1-12) is the only writer that tells us of the visit of the Magi, although he doesn’t tell how many they were, we assume the number three from the gifts.  The Magi are popularly referred to as wise men and kings. The word Magi is a Latinization of the plural of the Greek word magos (μαγος pl. μαγοι), itself from Old Persian maguŝ from the Avestanmagâunô, i.e. the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism. As part of their religion, these priests paid particular attention to the stars, and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time highly regarded as a science. Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic. The King James Version of the Bible names them as wise men. Their identification as kings is often linked to the Old Testament prophesies such as that in Isaiah 60:3, which describe the Messiah being worshipped by kings

Traditions identify a variety of different names for the Magi. We commonly know them as Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar, from the carol. These names are apparently derived from a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500 A.D.,

But what of those strange gifts also so explicitly identified in Matthew: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  As you may expect there are many different theories of the meaning and symbolism of these gifts.  Probably gold is the easiest to accept and explain, frankincense, and particularly myrrh, are much more obscure.

Though Bible historians over the years have presented many theories they appear to fall into two groups:  The first is that all three of the gifts are ordinary offerings and gifts given to a king. Myrrh being commonly used as anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable.  However alternative theories give the three gifts a more spiritual meaning: gold is stated as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (which is incense) as a symbol of priestship, and myrrh embalming oil) as a symbol of death.  An alternative eluded to in the carol "We Three Kings" in which the magi describe their gifts, is that gold symbolises virtue, frankincense symbolises prayer, and myrrh symbolises suffering.

Mathew tells us that they came from the East, traditionally the view  is that they were Babylonian or Persians or Jews from Yemen, The majority belief was they were from Babylon, which was the centre of Zurvanism, and hence astrology, at the time.   

Mathew tells us that they found Jesus by following his star, the Star of Bethlehem.  As you may expect there are a number of theories as to the nature of this star.  Johannes Kepler (imperial astronomer for Rudolph II of Germany), appears to be the first to speculate, just before Christmas 1603 he observed a pairing of Jupiter with Saturn from his observatory in Prague, and speculated that this or a supernova could have happened at the time of Jesus’ birth.  Mark Kidger an astronomer at Spain's Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, in the Canary Islands agrees and put forward a scenario some years ago that the Star, which the Magi first saw in the east at dawn, would have risen an hour earlier every two weeks until it was almost exactly due south at dawn. So when the Magi set out for Bethlehem, travelling south from Jerusalem, they would have once again seen the Star before them, appearing like it "hovered" right above Jesus’ birthplace, and by the time the Magi reached there the nova might have started to fade.

We can only marvel at the Magi’s faith and at the sight that they travelled so far to see.  May we see that faith this Christmas,                                                                            

George Jevons

 

The Magi

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