Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Magi Confirm Messiah's Birth: Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending December 27, 2009

Purpose: To explore the potent mixture of joy, danger, and tragedy that surrounded Jesus' birth

Scripture Text: Matthew 2:7-9, 16-23 (NRSV)

Matthew 2:7-9, 16-23
(7) Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. (8)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. (9)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.

(16) When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. (17)Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
(18)‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

(19) When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, (20)‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead. (21)Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. (22)But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. (23)There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

King Herod had been declared King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in about 37 B.C. You can easily see his concern when the Magi arrive with this announcement about being in Jerusalem to celebrate the birth of the King of the Jews. Herod was not a decent man; he had three sons and a wife already murdered, as well as a good number of Priest from the Sanhedrin.

The Magi or wise men, were astrologers, and studiers of the latest writers and diviners. While they may have come from the land of Daniel, we have no record that they were followers of the Jewish religion, and were probably considered to be Gentiles. The fact that they impressed Herod shows they must have been counsels, or advisers to royalty, if not Kings in their own right. Because the Magi gave three gifts, we assume there were three of them, but that is not stated anywhere. However, their entourage would have been a much larger number and the arrival in Jerusalem would certainly have caused a lot of attention.

The star that the Magi followed is often explained as a conjunction of planets or a nova or exploding star, I would rather think it was more like the “pillar of fire” or “cloud of glory” that led the children of Israel through the desert. This was something God created for the far flung nations of the world and the academia of the day, to witness.

By the time the Magi had made the trip after seeing the star, at least 40 days had passed and Joseph had moved Mary and the Baby Jesus to a new home, or possibly a cave, where they could safely dwell. The gifts they brought were gifts that would be expected for royalty. It does not require a lot of faith to believe God's plan was in play, knowing this poor family, would need assistance to flee the country. A pound of gold was worth months of pay and even frankincense and myrrh were worth well over two months pay per pound. The gifts would finance the family for at least 2 years, until Herod had died and it was safe to return to the area, but not any place under Herod's former rule, they would go to Galilee and the city of Nazareth.

When Herod found out he had been duped, by the wise men, he immediately ordered the death of all male children born in the Bethlehem area under the age of two. Since Bethlehem was a small village this may have involved less than ten children, and it was not significant enough for historians to make mention of this massacre of innocent children. However, the Church does recognize, in some countries, the Holy Day of “Massacre of the Innocents” in recognition of this terrible event. Countries celebrate it on the 27th or 28th of December, depending on the country. Most followers of Christ consider the Innocents to be the first martyrs for Christ. It is also called the Mass of the Children in some churches.

Joseph may have taken his family to the home town of Joseph, the former ruler of Egypt, On also called Heliopolis (traditional), or to Alexandria. Alexandria had a large community of scholarly Jews that had translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek. That translation is referred to as the Septuagint or LXX in most commentaries of the bible, because it was supposedly seventy of the brightest Jewish scholars in the world at that time. The book of Matthew uses this translation when he references the Old Testament.

The reference to Rachel may be due to the fact that Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin, near Bethlehem. Bethlehem was located in the area of Israel given to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin by Moses, under God's direction.

Joseph is still receiving direction from God on returning his family to Israel. God was not only the provider but was also the counsel for Joseph; he seemed to completely trust God for whatever the need, indeed he was a faithful father and husband as well as an obedient servant.
As it is with a lot of the events of our life, there is both joy and sorrow. In the months following September 11, 2001, at least 17 babies were born to women whose husbands died during the attacks that day. On the worst day of their lives, these women simultaneously carried within them one of life's greatest blessings. The births of these children, while occasions of great joy, were also no doubt filled with moments of deep sadness and fresh grief.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, you should be aware of the sacrifice of others, from our troops that have preserved our freedom, to the massacre of the innocents and both the early and modern day martyrs that give their life for their faith. While it is a time of great joy, lets us never forget the cost.

God bless you all this Christmas season.
Here is a Christmas Song to touch your heart and maybe bring a tear to you eye. Double click on the link: Mary Did you Know?

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