The Three Hundred Wise Men?
Christmas Eve is one week from tonight and, as Christians, we are starting to prepare for the arrival of the King. We all know the story – Joseph and Mary return to their hometown for the census and because there is no room at the inn, they end up in a stable where the baby Jesus is born. The shepherds in their fields rejoice and come to find the baby. It’s an amazing story – memorialized in the Scripture by several of the Gospel writers. But it’s amazing how we hear stories in our early childhood that stick with us for the rest of our lives. Yet sometimes, it is difficult to imagine that things may really have been different from what we were taught.
We read in Luke 2 about the birth of Jesus, which we also find in Matthew. We are told that Caesar Augustus had declared that a census was to be taken so Joseph took Mary and they returned from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the town of David, because Joseph was of the line of David. After the birth of Jesus, Mary wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in the manger – which all of us have seen depicted in nativity sets since we were born.
Remember? Jesus, with Mary and Joseph – the shepherds, animals, angels and, of course, those three wise men. You know, they were the ones who gave gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn King. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s back up a moment and really look at what the Bible has to say.
After Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks. The shepherds were fearful, but the angel told them that they were bringing good news of great joy for all people. That in fact, that very night, in the City of David, a savior had been born and that they could go and find the baby in a manger. The shepherds immediately left their fields and after a search, found the child as the angels had said. After seeing the child, the shepherds spread the word on what they had seen and then returned to their fields.
Oddly, the next thing we read about in Luke is the circumcision of Jesus when he was 8 days old. But wait a minute, what happened to the story of the wise men? Where did that go? Well, this is where we start to get into a little discrepancy between what we learned as kids and what the reality may have been. But if we go back to Matthew, we can start to uncover what probably happened.
The Scripture tells us that there was a star visible to the wise men. Following the directions and locations of the places given in the Bible, it would seem that the star was in the west, the wise men were in the east, and they followed the star. Eventually, they arrived in Jerusalem, where Herod was located. Of course, Herod commanded the wise men to find the child and they set off for Bethlehem, following the star. What isn’t clear is how long it took the wise men to arrive in Jerusalem. According to Bible scholars, it could have taken more than a year for these magi to travel from remote regions to the city of Jerusalem. Also, we don’t know how many magi made the trip, but it could have easily been in the hundreds – from all parts of the world. After all, the star appeared in the sky and was a supernatural star – so many people saw it. And this number of people all coming to Jerusalem would certainly have created a stir in the city.
Anyway, after setting out from the city, they found Jesus and His family, in a house. That’s right – not a manger, but a house. Wow! What’s going on here? Well, by the time all the magi gathered in Jerusalem and then set out again, Jesus could very well have been more than a year old – perhaps even older. Why do you think think that Herod ordered that all boys under the age of 2 be put to death? Because Jesus was no longer a newborn baby.
The verse for tonight is one that you have probably read many times, but never really reflected on. In Matthew 2:11, we are told, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” There you have it – the wise men travelled to a house, not the manger, when Jesus was more than a year old. That’s sure not the way I learned it when I was a kid…
My encouragement tonight is that this Christmas season, Jesus still wants you to come and worship Him. It may not be in a field, or in a manger, or even a house, but Jesus came for you and for everyone else. My prayer is that you will take some time, among all the giving and receiving of gifts, to think about that child, born in a stable – the hope and light of the world. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…