What do the Babylonian Captivity of Israel and the visit of the Magi 500 years later have to do with each other? What can we learn from the story of the Magi?
Let us understand that God loves all peoples.
We will look at the Babylonian Captivity, the Magi and the gifts.
Babylonian captivity & Christmas
How does Israel’s Babylonian Captivity tie in with Christmas? What if our country was conquered by a foreign nation and large numbers of our population were exiled, taken captive for about 60 years? We have never experienced that, but historically native Americans and African Americans have. English history in Australia and the U.S. State of Georgia was begun by exiling prisoners to form a population base. During Israel’s captivity the current Babylonian Hebrew alphabet began. Jeremiah, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Daniel and several deuterocanonical books recorded it. Many Jews never returned home. It was probably also their first major contact with the Magi, who were the sacred class in ancient Babylon. Their knowledge was a mixture of astrological superstition, semi-scientific alchemy, magic and early Zoroastrianism. It was descendants of this group who honored Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-12).
Former captors celebrate Jesus
Jews were deported from their own land into Babylonian captivity during the 500’s BC. At that time the chief of the magi was Nergal-Sharezer. They were the wise men of Babylon, priests, physicians, alchemists and astrologers. Their influence was widespread throughout much of the middle east. They most likely came into contact with teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures during the Jewish Babylonian captivity and mixed them into their own religion. Many Jews did not return from exile in Babylon and may have had further influence on the religion of the magi. The particular magi who came to visit the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12) could have come from virtually anywhere east of Jerusalem such as Persia, Babylon, Arabia, or India. It was 500 years later, a long time. National tragedy can be used by God to bring people to Jesus.
Ever since we were children we have heard of the visit of the Magi after Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1-12). Who were they? The Greek term is magoi. Friberg  defines this as wise men of the Magian religion, magicians or sorcerers. Louw and Nida prefer “men of wisdom who studied the stars.”  An ancient historian, Herodotus of Halicarnassus  called them interpreters of omens and dreams  who perhaps still sacrificed to Persian gods. They were possibly baptized into the church many years later by the apostle Thomas while on his way to plant churches in India . Why did pagans show more belief than followers of God? Herod had access through the Jews who had even easier access, but most of them chose not to be interested. What is our reaction to the birth of Jesus?
 Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. BibleWorks, v.3
 Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1989, United Bible Societies
Magi facts and fiction
The western tradition of three magi comes from the number of gifts that they gave. Eastern traditions suggests that there may have been twelve. While they were certainly high officials, it is a myth that they were kings. That idea possibly arose around the 8th century in trying to retrofitPsalm 72:11 which was not meant to be quite that time-specific in nature. The names Melchior (a Persian scholar or king), Caspar (an Indian scholar or king) and Balthazar (an Arabian scholar or king) are also probably 8th century embellishments. The Christmas Nativity Scene is often but not always a montage of two events, Jesus born in a stable and the magi visiting him later in a house (Matthew 2:1-12). What is significant is that among the first to recognize Jesus as ruler of Israel were foreigners.
Killing our children
One of the saddest stories of Christmas is the murder of the children (Matthew 2:13-23), yet we are no different. We decry the senseless murder of innocent children at a school and the perverted treatment of little ones in child porn and then turn a blind eye to the greatest abuse of our children, abortion. Legitimate medical reasons for choosing between a child's life and its mother’s exist, but we kill innocent children mostly for convenience. We are a terribly hypocritical uncivilized peoples. We abhor rape and rightly have sympathy for our women. Yet we also punish the wrong people, the innocent children who had nothing to do with the crime, but are just as much victims as the mothers were. We decry all kinds of terrorism except our own homegrown terrorism against the innocents. When will we stop?
Bringing pagans to Christ
How can we bring people of different religions to Christ? Over the years I’ve seen many different approaches all the way from outright insults to arguments showing them the “error of their ways” and numerous more tactful approaches. How about letting God bring them to Christ? That’s what happened to the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12). How God did it is also interesting. Magi were astrologers among other things. How would God bring an astrologer to Christ? God has used many ways to reveal himself to people. In this case he used their own religion and revealed his purpose in a manner that they would understand, a star. There is nothing to be found of Old Testament language of condemnation for these pagans, but rather a gentle leading to the place of Christ’s birth even using elements of their own faith.
A gift to bring
Three foreign dignitaries with a completely different religion recognized Christ and brought a gift. Herod did not. Instead he plotted to kill the Christ child. What gift do we bring (Matthew 2:1-12)? The powerful often do not seek to give others recognition but to remain in power. It’s something that we see in our western democracies and is the same story no matter the form of government down through history. The story of the wandering astrologers, the Magi tells us that things are about to change. Non-Jews would soon be embraced by God. Herod did not offer a gift. He feared change, feared that his position may be about to be taken away. When we hear of a change in God’s way of doing things, we can choose to fear and threaten or bring a gift to the Messiah.
How do we celebrate Jesus like the Magi or like Herod? Is he a threat to us or a joy?