If you like you can take the story of the coming of the Magi as symbolic rather than historical.
For the Jews the Magi would be strange people – pagans who knew nothing of the God of Israel or the Scriptures. Seekers of truth and wisdom through astronomy, astrology, mathematics and other, to the Jews of that time, mysterious sciences.
For the authors of the New Testament they symbolised the coming of peoples from all nations to belief in, and worship of, Jesus of Nazareth; the Messiah.
These authors would have been very conscious of the prophesies concerning the Messiah as found in Psalm 71 and in Isaiah 60 which speaks of dignitaries or kings coming from afar bringing gifts to the Messiah.
It is disputed as to whether some strangers actually came from afar following some astronomical event (which were widely associated with the birth of a king or emperor) or that the authors of Matthew simply put it in as a suitable fulfilment of Old Testament Prophesy.
Either way doesn’t really matter as the aim is not historical fact but theological instruction.
For me there are two lessons in today’s Gospel reading which stand out.
Firstly it is of great importance to be a seeker of truth. My natural attitude should be, to quote Einstein “The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.” The Magi travelled a long distance seeking the truth, not fearing what the truth might reveal but ready to accept the truth and change if necessary. Science is the seeking of truth. I have heard many times ‘I do not believe in a God, I am into science.’ Such a one understands neither science nor theology. A great thing about science is that it will debunk false theology. Good theology will always dovetail with good science.
If there is an apparent contradiction then either science or theology must reappraise their conclusions.
The second lesson from today’s Gospel reading is that truth will not always be welcomed.
King Herod and the political establishment of the day did not want truth. (their response to truth was to kill it).
The religious establishment did not want truth – they already knew it all ( they didn’t even bother to send someone to Bethlehem to look into the matter.)
Primarily Christianity is a seeking of truth – truth about God and about man.
Even in today’s allegedly ‘enlightened’ world, anyone who openly professes their religious belief and especially tries to live by it, will encounter ridicule and even persecution of one sort or another. It can often go under the label of ‘peer pressure’ and can be found even in our own schools and homes. Being a Christian requires one to be morally and mentally strong.
As regards the gifts which the Magi brought, one mum remarked ‘typical men. It never occurred to them to bring nappies.’