“We three kings of Orient are.” So begins a favorite carol of the Advent season about the “Wise Men” who visit the newborn Jesus. And so begins a tale that takes inaccuracy and historical revisionism to a whole new level.
First, we don’t know how many kings there were. There could have been as few as two and up to almost any number. Second, they were not “kings” from the Orient. They were, put more accurately, Magi. The Magi were astronomers – primitive by today’s standards – who were on the cutting edge of scientific and philosophical knowledge in their day. Such men called Persia home (modern day Iran), not the Far East.
Third, these men did not find the Christ child while “following yonder star.” They saw the star “in the East” or “at the rising of the sun,” but then proceeded west to Palestine. The star did not reappear until they were already in Bethlehem. And finally, the Magi, technically, do not belong in the Nativity scene at all. They were latecomers to the Christmas party, maybe as late as Jesus’ second birthday.
Still, “We Three Kings” remains one of my favorite Holiday hymns to bellow out this time of year, for the journey of the Magi is a fascinating exercise in unexpected faith. They came seeking the child who had been born king of the Jews, based almost entirely on the appearance of an enigmatic star.
While history is rampant with explanations for this phenomena, one conclusion is certain: The Magi interpreted this unusual sign in the heavens as a clear communication that something extraordinary had taken place in the world. And even more extraordinary, these Persian sages applied their interpretation to the emergence of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.
Why so astonishing? Not many people would launch out on a dangerous journey based solely on a spiritual hunch. Not many people would put their life on hold to prove their mystical intuitions true. And not many Persians (today’s Iranians) would worship at the feet (or manger) of a Jew.
Yet, in God’s way, these all belonged together. Divisions of race, religion, nationality or ethnicity did not factor into the equation. This is a foreshadowing of the Apostle Paul’s words: “You are all the same in Christ Jesus.” All are welcome into the presence of the One who will “reconcile everything – all things in heaven and on earth to himself.”
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.