After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
The Jewish shepherds had angels appearing to them at night to announce to them the birth of Jesus, for angels had been there when Moses got the Law and were depicted on the drapery within the Temple itself. The Magi, Gentiles, had only a star to follow, for it was amongst the stars that they searched for Truth. What’s interesting is that God called out to both Jews and Gentiles, shepherds and Magi, according to how they were familiar with their idea of Him, with what they used to try to worship Him. He took their knowledge of Him—angels and the Temple for Jews, stars and astrology for Magi—as His starting point, and then He reconfigured it by showing them His knowledge—His firstborn Son.
What we have to come to understand is that, with the Advent of Jesus, God was launching not just a new creation, but a new model for worship. The baby the shepherds saw in the manger, the toddler the Magi met, this was more than a just baby or a toddler. Christ had come as a new temple, a new humanity—it was God indwelling flesh, where flesh and Spirit joined as a new place to worship. God used the angels with the Jews and stars with the Gentiles—things already familiar to their search for God—to call them deeper. God will use both our informed worship (like with the Temple of the Jews) as well as our misguided worship (the idolatry of the Gentiles) to draw us deeper.
And when we go deeper we will, like the Magi, open up our treasures to Him. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also” (Matthew 6:21), so when the Magi open their treasures to Him, we see that it’s because God opened their hearts to Jesus. The Magi’s presentation of the “gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” recalls, for a Jewish reader of Matthew’s gospel, the time when God moved the Hebrew’s hearts to bring the treasures they took with them out of Egypt and present them to Moses to build the Tabernacle. And if we remember that Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt after the Magi presented their treasures, it will become clear to us what Matthew is showing us here. What Matthew is trying to do here is show us that God is enacting a new Exodus and building a new Tabernacle.
When the Magi present their treasures, it shows us that their hearts were opened to God and offered to Him there and then, as their treasures given to Him—because God treasures our hearts. It also shows us that God is up to building a new Tabernacle, for we remember that God’s first tabernacle was built with the treasures of idolatrous Egypt. Matthew’s account of this moment is his way of telling the world that a new way to worship God had come when Jesus came, and in Christ we find the new, and better, Tabernacle of God. And further, we see how God redeems our idolatry, just as with the Magi, for He gives us the chance to present to Him both our treasures and our hearts.
The Advent of Christ is the arrival of a new humanity and a new tabernacle, of a new creation and of a new way to worship—all found together in the person of Jesus Christ.