Saturday, 1 January 2011


GospelMatthew 2:1-12 

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

Probably one of the most memorable parts of the Nativity story is the coming of the Wise Men. But what is the story? If you ask most people they will tell you that there were three Kings; some people may even know their names - Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior; even more will know their gifts - gold, frankincense and myrrh. 'Religiously' we will take down our decorations on Twelfth Night - the feast day of the Ephiphany, the feast day of the Three Kings, or, in other parts of the world - give out gifts. 

Except, according to Scripture  these were wise men, not kings; there is no mention of their names or how many of them there were and the date of the Epiphany is as arbitary as the date of the Christmas day itself. In fact, this year we are not even celebrating the Epiphany on the 6th.

Most of what we think we know about the Magi (a general term meaning a priest caste )  is, quite frankly 'made up'. Tales and rituals from various cultures, various centuries, that have come together in a mutually acceptable account that lots of people who have never heard or read the Gospel will know. 

A good argument for the argument that there is no truth in the Gospels; that they are all no more than poetic licence, myth and fable. If we are fooled by the story of the Magi; then what else could be fantasy or Victorian fairytale?

Does the story (by the way,they are only mentioned in one of the Gospels) of the Three (more or less) Wise Men (but could be kings) celebrated on (or about) 6th January feed the inclination to believe that the Gospel, that Scripture is a work of cultural storytelling with very little basis in truth? There's some good arguments for the cynics and atheists amongst us.


The letters at the top of the page are not the name of the fourth King (could have started a whole new tradition there !) It stands for 'what you see is what you get' and suggests a really pragmatic, no-nonsense approach to life.  But actually, can mean quite the opposite. 

Because it depends on what you see.

See Matthew; the most Jewish of the Gospel writers, introducing these strangers; these Gentiles at the very beginning of Jesus' life. As much as it may have pained him, Matthew knows that Jesus did not just come for his people and he addresses it straight away.  Look, see - you who had him in the palm of your hand and let him go. Here are men, important men who took a chance; travelled on faith; travelled with a desire to know, to learn; who came wanting to believe. 

And then later as the Christians became the mix of cultures and races that they are; they are given a feast day; wise men become kings; and then are found names. We remind ourselves in different ways that these people are important. 

We will have stories ourselves, family stories, all planted firmly in fact and in truth, but gilded with each telling until it becomes more outrageous; more romantic; more unforgettable. No-one will tell us that they are not true. 

When you read; when you see these stories from the Gospel - see the writer; see the teller of tales; see the believer to whom these accounts are so important - see the whole history of Christianity winding its path to your feet; see and believe.



Daisy said...

well written "Word". Thanks

Word in the Hand said...

Thank you Daisy - the wonders of a bright new year to you and your human.

claire said...

I am so glad you wrote this, Word.

I see more and more some of these biblical stories as a metaphor for my own life, a signpost for me to look at some parts of my life in a different way.

And then, of course, I would like to travel through time to the moment when that story came up and what was the intention of the writer and then of those who collected these stories that ended up making up the gospel of Matthew.

Blessings, Word.

Word in the Hand said...

I'd be travelling with you Claire, hopefully in God's time we'd get to speak with all the storytellers. I think that that's when you 'get' scripture - when you see the signposts to God's place and 'out of place' in the story of your own spiritual and life journey.
blessings, Claire