Thursday, January 05, 2017

Epiphany: Feast of the Three Kings

I wonder if the three magi were disappointed when they finally found Jesus.

The magi, traditionally referred to as the wise men, would have arrived in Bethlehem around the time Jesus already was toddling around on two feet and speaking in two-word sentences. Jan. 5, also called Epiphany or Twelfth Night, celebrates their arrival in the traditional Christian calendar. In Mexico and the Caribbean, this is also known as the Feast of Three Kings.

We don't know much about them. The Bible never tells how many of them there were, where exactly they came from, or even what their names are. It tells us that they saw a star that they understood was announcing the birth of a new king, and they came to find him and to worship him.

Over the years, people have tried to fill in the gaps. Because the Bible mentions three gifts, tradition has asserted there were three magi as well. It also gives us names: Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar. Lew Wallace, the author of “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ” suggests that they were from Egypt, India and Greece, respectively, to stress the universal message and appeal of the gospel, but there's no basis for any of that.

The gospel uses the Greek word magi, the plural of magus, so it's a fair assumption that they were occultists of some sort. Given that they were following a star, they very well may have been astrologers. At the same time, I've read scholars suggest that they may have been wealthy merchants, magoi, who came to sell expensive wares to Herod; and other claims that they were Jews living in Babylon who saw the connection between the Star of Bethlehem and a prophecy in Numbers 24:17.

These are all interesting ideas, but what I can't help but wonder is how they reacted when they arrived. The gospel of Matthew says that they initially went to Jerusalem and met with Herod the Great, which seems like a fairly obvious thing to do. If you're looking for a newborn king, the home of the current reigning king does seem like a logical place to look.

Except Herod had no son young enough to meet their expectations, and his own people reportedly cited a prophecy from the prophet Micah that the messiah would come from Bethlehem.

I can't help but think that the magi must have felt some sort of letdown when they finally arrived. When my own children were 2, their personalities were truly starting to emerge. This was the age when they were starting to speak, follow simple directions, and start to explore the world with enthusiasm. It's also when the tempers began.

Over the weeks and months that the magi had been following that star, did anything really prepare them for the sight of a child who still didn't have all his teeth, who walked confidently but still fell down and cried when the ground was uneven, and who liked to bang his bowl on the table to get attention at dinner?

I wonder how they reacted when Jesus kept screaming his head off because an exhausted Joseph was trying to carry him on his left shoulder (not his right) while walking (not bouncing) inside the house (not around it outside) and talking soothingly to him (not singing). If you don't have children yourself, you can trust me on this. That's exactly how Jesus would have behaved when he was 2.

Talk about first impressions.

One presumes from the gospel that they had expected some sort of god-man who lived in a mansion. Instead they found an ordinary child with working-class parents who lived in a small house in a godforsaken little town on the outskirts of nowhere.

You can almost imagine the three of them arguing outside in the street about whether they had the right address, if they had misunderstood the message of the star entirely, and even whose idea it was to bring all these expensive gifts for a Capricorn, anyway.

God can be so disappointing when he doesn't do things the way we expect him to, and yet that's what keeps happening. He exceeds our expectations by reaching so far below them that in the end we're stunned by how sublimely perfect his wisdom is.

At some point the magi realized that they did have the right address. The Bible records that they gave their gifts and worshiped, one presumes while Jesus grabbed their beards, pulled their noses, and played with their lips.

And when they realized the threat this completely ordinary child posed to the people in power, the Bible says that they snuck out by another route.

Copyright © 2017 by David Learn. Used with permission.

1 comment:

Minx McCloud said...

Can't help it. This one really made me laugh and I've never even had children. My Christmas fantasy involves Jesus pooping in His pants because He's afraid of the angels heralding His arrival.

I always picture Mary and Joseph handing him back and forth like a hot potato, accompanied by dialogue such as:

"YOU change Him; He's YOUR kid."

"Oh no you don't, Joseph. He's YOUR responsibility too, and you'd better get used to changing smelly nappies."

And then they end up handing him off to one of the shepherd, who, one would assume, is very familiar with the smell of poop.

Can't help it folks ... there are many such scenarios in the Minxland version of the Bible.