Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. – Matthew 2:1-12
We don’t really know the date of Jesus’ birth. We do know it was sometime before 4BC. That’s the date that Herod the Great (King Herod above) died. Since Jesus had been born while Herod was alive we have some idea of the date of his birth. It was likely not December 25. Nor was it likely January 6. Having said that, however, January 6 is celebrated as Christmas by the eastern Orthodox churches.
The wise men came from the east in search of the newborn king of the Jews. It is not certain whether they were Jewish believers who were left over from the exile many years before. It is quite possible that they were gentiles. That is one of the reasons January 6 which is Epiphany and a commemoration of the visit of the magi, is called the Christmas of the Gentiles.
Their appearance, worship, and gifts to the child (now perhaps 18 months old) are a fulfillment of prophecies in Isaiah:
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth ~ Isaiah 49:6b
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. ~ Isaiah 60:3
More than that, the wise men offer us a picture of devotion appropriate to the King of kings, the child Jesus. Notice it was “his” star that they saw and which alerted them to the birth of the King of the Jews. Note also that the are up front in asking about the birth of the “King of the Jews.” They knew who Jesus was. Notice their gifts: fit for a king and alluding to the fact that Jesus was God in the flesh. Notice that they find the child and Mary his mother (the child is mentioned first).
I’m not sure I give it as much thought as I should, but it is vitally important that Jesus came for all people. It is important to me, also, that these wise men had waited for centuries before the promises of Isaiah had come true. I am all too prone to be impatient with God. I want his timing to match my urgency. But rather than making God my personal genie in a bottle, I need to join the wise men and worship Jesus. I must offer him my gifts, and recognize him as King.