DAY 21: THE GLORY OF THE LORD ACCORDING TO THE MAGI
Ang kaluwalhatian ng Panginoon ayon sa mga dalubhasa sa butiin at panahon
Filipino | Matthew 2:1–12
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
– Matthew 2:11
Just as ambassadors and diplomats greet a newly elected president of an allied country, the Magi, or political counsellors, made a courtesy call in Jerusalem to pay homage to the newborn “king of the Jews,” an unmistakably political title. No wonder that, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3)!
Who were these Magi? Why should their presence and pronouncement cause distress to political entities? In ancient times, kings and rulers valued the counsel of wise men, especially those who claimed to know the future and interpret divine matters. Magi were trained in diplomacy, legislation, religion, astrology, and the mystical arts. They held such a prestigious political and social status that they were known to tip the political scale with their support for one ruler over another. Some were even appointed as vassal kings, like Tiridates of Armenia, a Zoroastrian priest who was made king by the emperor Nero.
The Prophet Daniel is a biblical example of a magus (Daniel 5). Given Daniel’s long political influence over the Magi and beyond, it is not improbable to think that the Magi who visited Jesus had access to divine prophecies about the Messiah. Ancient historians like Josephus, Suetonius, and Tacitus all testify that the ancient world expected a political figure to rise from Judea and rule the world.
This political motif is often lost and overlooked in the Advent narrative, leaving just a story of a “mystical” or “spiritual” Messiah. But the political theme needs to be recalled at such a time as this. The implication of a political Messiah means that one day the world will have to submit to a political king whose kingdom is not a democracy. The world today is opposed to the idea of monarchy. On the one hand, this is understandable, given the historical realities of power misused. But on the other hand, it is foolishness, driven by the thought that everyone doing what is right in his or her own eyes is best. The individual—and individual rights related to speech, family, sexuality, wealth, health, etc.—is king. How then will the world respond when the Lord Jesus Christ finally appears in bodily form in all his glory to establish his physical and political kingdom on earth?
When the Magi finally arrived at the place where the child, Jesus, was staying, “… they were overjoyed” (Matthew 2:10). Imagine, a company of wise men in all their pompous attire jumping and celebrating as they come before the presence of a child. Why the premature rejoicing? At this point, the child has yet to grow up and establish His kingdom. What was the celebration about? It is about hope and a promise. After witnessing all the evil rulers in their lifetime, the Magi have finally found the righteous one they have been looking for.
As the world grapples with the COVID pandemic, the Russia–Ukraine war, climate change, economic instability, famine, and the like, every person in every country is looking to their political leaders for answers, and none has any to give. Imagine coming before the presence of a king who can address all that is wrong in this world. It is a cause for celebration indeed! And it is the reason for hope looking forward.
The recent presidential election in the Philippines was the most divisive in our nation’s history. Many believers prefer to be silent amidst the rampage of disinformation destroying not only the nation but also the soul of the Church. It is easy to regress from political conflict and just accept the philosophy of separation of Church and State.
Yet in God’s economy, there is no such thing as separation of Church and State. There is only one King and one kingdom. As citizens of God’s kingdom, Christians bring the values of His kingdom to political engagement, speaking truth to power and working toward a just and equitable society. Since Jesus is a political Messiah, we know that no election and no ascension of a new king is our final hope, so we don’t over celebrate or over despair but keep pressing on in faithfulness to the true King until He comes.
When the Lord Jesus Christ finally appears in all His glory to establish His kingdom on earth, He will contend against every form of oppressive, authoritarian, and libertine political structure that goes against His kingdom’s values of true righteousness, justice, and love. He will shine His glory into all spheres of life.
Balang araw, ang kaluwalhatian ng Panginoon ay hihigitan at pagliliwanagin kahit ang pinakamadilim na yugto ng pulitika.
(One day, the glory of God will surpass and illuminate even the darkest period of our political history.)
This is our hope and our promise.
DR JASON RICHARD TAN
Quezon City, Philippines
Dr Jason Tan is a Langham Scholar who currently serves as President of the Great Commission Missionary Training Center (GCMTC) and on the faculty of Intercultural Studies at Asia Graduate School of Theology (AGST) in Quezon City, Philippines.