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thanks aloud to God, and “ spake of him," adds the Evangelist, “ to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” Beautiful example for you, aged and pious females. Think it not enough that you yourselves have beheld the Saviour; speak of his excellences to others, declare to them the faithfulness of God in fulfilling his promises to his people, and endeavour to excite their confidence, their love, and devotion.
Having thus presented Jesus in the temple, and performed all that was required by the law of the Lord, Joseph, Mary, and the Saviour, returned to Nazareth. They continued here, however, but a short time, before they returned to Bethlehem, where they were found by the wise men of the east, who came heaven-directed to prostrate themselves before Messiah.*
It is uncertain from what particular country these wise men or magi (as they are more properly termed)
The scriptures merely tell us that they came from the east. It is the most common and most probable opinion that they were from Persia. Among this people the magi principally flourished, and their very name is of Persian origin. They were a class of men who devoted themselves to religion and the study of nature, particularly of astronomy. They were austere in their habits, and pure in their morals. They were the instructers of the royal family; and to them was committed the superintendence of the public religion. I have before shown you, that at the time of the birth of Jesus, all the east was
* There is some difficulty in fixing the time of the coming of the magi. I have followed the order of events laid down by Macknight and Beausobre--whom see,
anxiously looking for some great personage, who should arise to give happiness to the nations. This expectation probably owed its original to the Jews, who, being dispersed through the east in their several captivities, spread the knowledge of their prophecies, as well as of their religion, among the various people with whom they associated. In addition to this general expectation, in which the magi participated, there was one circumstance which would render their desires more strong. Zoroaster, the chief reformer of the magian discipline and religion, was the servant of the prophet Daniel, to whom particular revelations were made concerning the time of the advent of Messiah. Probably he communicated to his disciples more definite information concerning the period when the Redeemer should appear, and the country where he should be born, than was possessed by the rest of the Gentiles. No wonder then that when they were informed of his birth, they hastened to Judea.
The appearance of a new star first excited their attention. When arrived at Jerusalem, they inquire, “ Where is he that is born King of the Jews ? for we have seen his star in the East." What was this star? Different opinions have been entertained. It evidently could not have been an ordinary star; its motion differed from the apparent motion of any
of these; it appeared in the day-time; it was lower; and its light was more intense. It was then a luminous body, created by the divine power to direct the steps of the magi: to serve the same purposes to them as the pillar of fire and cloud did to the Israelites, when wandering in the desert. It is here called a star, in conformity with the custom of all languages, which give this name to meteors formed in the air,
and resembling the real stars in their lustre and appearance. Thus among us, nothing is more common than to speak of shooting stars.
But how could this appearance announce to the magi that “ the King of the Jews was born ?" In itself it could not. In addition to it, there was an immediate revelation, informing them what was denoted by this extraordinary appearance which they had observed, and the cause of which they had probably in vain endeavoured to discover. As soon as they are made acquainted with the blessed event which it denotes, and the purpose for which it is destined, they joyfully put themselves under its guidance, and are conducted by it to Jerusalem. There it disappears, in order that the Sanhedrim might give their testimony to the place designated by ancient prophesy for the birth of Messiah. Had it conducted them immediately to Bethlehem, we should not have had the unanimous decision of the Jewish teachers of that age, that Bethlehem was the place fixed by heaven for the nativity of Christ. Deprived of the conducting star, they inquire at Jerusalem, “ Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” They doubtless expected that the great and the learned in this city would immediately be able to inform them. Alas! they were disappointed. These great men of the world were occupied with other cares, were engaged in other pursuits than those that related to Messiah. Had the magi met with the humble shepherds of Bethlehem, they would instantly have given them the information which they sought: but the learned rabbis and scribes were strangers to the birth of their King. How often does the world exhibit similar instances! How often are we constrained to remember those expressive words of our Saviour, “ I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes !") How often do we see those who are versed in human science, and like these magi, can trace the progress of the stars, but never, like them, had the felicity to behold the star of Christ!
At the question and information of the magi, “ the king was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” The trouble of Herod is not astonishing. It is the fear and the rage of a jealous and cruel usurper, who knows that he is hated by the nation whom he governs; who is apprehensive that Providence is about to wrest the sceptre from his sanguinary hands; who already hears Jerusalem and Judea proclaiming the King that is sent to them from heaven.
But why should Jerusalem be troubled ? What has it to fear? Ought not the birth of the Prince of Peace and King of Zion to be welcomed by it as the most acceptable .tidings ? Jerusalem, like other great cities, was composed of different classes of persons. The most distinguished inhabitants were connected with the court, and derived their dignities and riches from Herod. They therefore participated in his trouble, as they must have been sharers in any calamity which befel him. Others, who detested Herod, feared a change. Regarding the Messiah as a temporal deliverer, they supposed that he could not, without the effusion of much blood, rescue them from misery, and tear Herod from the throne. But though such were the feelings of the majority of the people, there were some few more pious and more enlightened, who, like Simeon and Anna, rejoiced in this long expected event.
The tyrant, who was most deeply interested, carefully concealed his uneasiness; appeared to listen to the magi with satisfaction, and showed them every mark of outward respect. That he might answer their question, he “gathered together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, and asked them where Christ should be born.” “ The chief priests were either those who had enjoyed the dignity of the high priesthood, (which had now become elective and temporary,) or the chiefs of the sacerdotal classes, the heads of the courses of priests appointed by David. The scribes were the interpreters of the law, and the public instructers of the nation. All these, illustrious for their learning, were consulted on this occasion."* “ Though the star had disappeared,” says good Bishop Hall, “ yet there is a perpetually fixed star shining in the writings of the prophets, that guided the chief priests and scribes directly to Bethlehem."
Herod, having thus found the place assigned by the prophets for the birth of the Saviour, resolved to destroy the infant King. He, however, dissembled his intentions under the cloak of piety; and “calling the magi, privily inquired carefully of them what time the star had appeared, and then sent them to Bethlehem, saying, Go, and search diligently for the young child ; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also." The wisdom and power of the Divine Providence are here conspicuously manifested in the preservation of the Saviour. Nothing could exceed the ordinary jealousy and suspicion of the character of Herod. Yet he here acts with the utmost careless
* Macknight in loco