Matthew includes a number of dark elements in his story: Joseph resolves to put Mary away quietly (1:19). (Exodus 1:16,22); Herod kills babies in an attempt to do away with the newborn king (2:16-18). (Exodus 2:1-10); Joseph and his family flee to Egypt to escape the murderous king (2:13-15). (Exodus 2:15); Joseph and family return to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem (2:19-23). (Exodus 4:19); For Matthew, these are important parallels between the stories of Moses and Jesus.
"Wise men (magoi) from the East came to Jerusalem" (v. 1c). These magoi come to Jerusalem, because the capital city is the logical place to look for a king. Magoi, "originally the title of a Persian priestly caste who played an important role in advising the king, was applied more widely to learned men and priests who specialized in astrology and the interpretation of dreams, and in some cases magical arts." They were probably members of a priestly caste in ancient Persia, possibly followers of Zoroaster. We call them kings, but Matthew calls them magoi, which we transliterate "Magi." We think of these magoi as astrologers because they are observing stars (v. 2). However, from the perspective of the Jewish people, magoi look to the stars for answers that legitimately come only from God (Acts 8:9-24 and 13:6-11). From the perspective of the Jewish people, magoi work magic using demonic powers. They are far from the Jewish community, which makes these magoi especially useful for Matthew's purposes as he shows how the Messiah brings salvation even to Gentiles (non-Jews)–even to Gentiles who might be magicians or sorcerers. Matthew's Gospel is very Jewish, but he introduces these Gentile worshipers at the beginning, preparing us for Jesus' last words to his disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (28:19 –– the Greek word translated "nations" is ethne, which also means "Gentiles"). We are struck by the contrast between these Gentiles, who follow the star to Jesus, and the chief priests and scribes, who know the scriptures but who do nothing to seek out the Messiah, whom they have determined to be only five miles away in Bethlehem (v. 5). God's people ignore the Messiah, while pagans eagerly seek him out. Without this newborn king, the astrologers and King Herod (and we too) remain in sinful separation from God, living in the miseries of our own devising, believing that worldly wisdom can somehow offer us a relationship to God. For the most part, we misunderstand faith and trust in God as something of our own making, instead of a gift from God. The power of God's Spirit transcends the Church. The Spirit of God is at work in the world, especially in the lives of our family and friends, even those outside of the Church. This frees us to invite our unchurched loved ones to deepen their relationship with God where they are at, instead of thinking that we have to bring them to God -- who only resides in the church.