Tuesday, 18 December 2007

We three k.. now let me just stop you there.

I’m sure we all know the carol: “We three kings of orient are…” Although of course your level of maturity will determine whether this is followed by the words “…bearing gifts we travel afar…” or “one in a taxi, one in a car…” Steady yourselves because I’m about to blow a Christmas myth wide open!


I can feel the shock-waves rippling away from me! I should be on QI! Only the gospel of Matthew mentions the Magi (wise men, not kings) and nowhere does it say that there were three of them. Matthew chapter 2 says:

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men [1] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose [2] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

[1] 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 7, 16 [2] 2:2 Or in the east; also verse 9

Wise men? Check. Three gifts? Check. Three wise men? Er….no. That was quite an assumption someone made there wasn’t it?! Anyway my point is, that for me at least, the most exciting part is not the Magi themselves but the gifts that they brought. Although please note that I do still maintain that Christmas is not about the presents! Gold, frankincense and myrrh eh? You might find some gold in your average Marks and Spencer catalogue but I think you’d be hard pushed to find either of the other two. The great thing about these gifts is that they were given to Jesus Christ specifically to point to what his life on earth was going to be about.

Gold – a gift for a king. The King. Not Elvis… ahem. Jesus. The King of the Jews. The Messiah, whom God promised to his people generations ago.

Frankincense – an ingredient in the production of incense. In the Old Testament incense was burnt as a sacrifice to God. It was holy and used when God was to come into the presence of the Israelites. Jesus was both God and man, truly and clearly in the presence of his people.

Myrrh – a fragrant material used not only in incense, but also as an embalming ointment. The gift of myrrh pointed to Christ’s ultimate reason for being born – to die.

Man, that’s just so cool! Well obviously not the fact that he had to die. But the fact that he did. And that these weird presents were saying just that!


Defying gravity said...

There was a debate in the anglican general synod a couple of years ago about the magi - apparently magi is theoretically a gender neutral word, and therefore there could have been wise women as well (although I think it was conceded not to have been v likely, given the culture of the time).

JackP of thepickards.co.uk said...

But surely as a translation of a translation of an oral tradition, even if the word originally was 'kings', it would be difficult to tell by now?

And I've got to admit I take the "misheard line" approach to Christmas carols (and indeed other songs).

"Good King Wence last looked out..."

I think I was about eight before I realised the line wasn't:

"Good tidings we bring, to you and your king"

...because frankly I'd never heard the word "kin" in that context and king rhymes better anyway...

No offence intended BTW: I presume any Big Guy In The Sky must have a sense of humour, and I think it's possible to crack jokes of this nature without meaning any disrespect.

After all, I take the **** of my friends all the time...

lilwatchergirl said...

*hand waving wildly in the air* Ooh, ooh, I knew that! Heh. Yeah, it's very cool that we know more about the gifts than the people who offered them. The most important thing about them survives. The rest is left to those of us with a good imagination!

Hope you had a good Christmas. Happy New Year!