Once again, we are coming up on the time of year when we celebrate one of the greatest events in the history of…well…history. It’s a celebration of the incarnation, when the divine took on human form and lived among His creation.
There have been so many traditions, from so many different backgrounds, that have become standards. They have become so very familiar to us that we often times will accept various stories and teaching without question. Sometimes, this is completely benign. Other times it can be dangerous.
In the case of the “three wise men” that we have heard about for years, I think it’s a pretty benign thing. However, in the interest of clearing up misinformation, regardless of how non-threatening it may be, I thought I’d post something about this well-known story of the nativity of Jesus.
According to tradition, when we think of the nativity story, we think of Mary and Joseph finding no room at the Inn and having to stay in the stable. It is there that Mary gives birth to Jesus. It is there that the shepherds visit the Christ child. We also see that the new family is visited by “wise men” from the East, bearing gifts.
Recently, my son has been learning a little “poem” in his pre-school regarding the nativity story. It first acknowledges the “three great kings” as they are often referred to. This is the first of the false understandings, and the most common, that I have seen. We always assume that there were three. Why? The Bible does not tell us how many there were. There may have only been two. Perhaps there were as many as ten. We don’t know. What we do know is that three gifts were given. From that, we assume that each “great king” gave one gift. Perhaps that is correct. But the biblical narrative is silent about the number of “wise men” that visited Jesus.
Another part of the poem talks about them worshiping baby Jesus as he lay in the manger. Once again, this is another misinformed belief about the nativity story. These wise men did not visit baby Jesus in the stable. In fact, they didn’t visit baby Jesus at all. They visited Jesus when He was about two years old. Remember, the star appeared in the sky the night Jesus was born. These men traveled from a distant country. There was no such thing as an airplane or a bullet train back then. It took them some time to make this journey.
In fact, when you read the narrative and see them speaking with King Herod and giving them the timeline of when they saw the star appear, Herod’s order was to kill all male children two years and younger. Why? Because according to the time the wise men saw the star, it had been about two years, so Herod knew that this child would be about two years old.
Also, these wise men did not likely visit Jesus in Bethlehem. While the text does not specify, we know that Jesus lived in Nazareth. Joseph and Mary only traveled to Bethlehem for the census. That means, they did not live there. They may not have lived in Nazareth, either. We don’t know. We know that, after Herod’s death, when Joseph and Mary came back to Judea from their self-imposed exile in Egypt, they settled in Nazareth. Perhaps this is because they had lived there before their journey to Egypt. Perhaps not. We don’t know.
Now, I know that these types of things are not really going to affect our salvation. However, since it is my desire that the Church be accurate and informed about what the Bible teaches in order to establish credibility among non-believers, I felt that this might help to clarify some misinformation that might be used against Christians in an attempt to make us look as though we are anti-intellectual and non-critical in our thinking. We certainly don’t want that reputation.
If nothing else, hopefully you found this somewhat interesting. Whatever the case, I wish everyone a safe and happy Christmas.
Grace, love and peace.