11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 (NKJV)
By Bro. John L. Cash, “Country Preacher Dad”
I love all the Christmas carols so much—even though they often have lyrics that don’t exactly line up with the details found in the Scriptures. Nowhere is this more evident than in the wonderful song, “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”
First of all, the Bible doesn’t say that there were three Wise Men. I think that we just assume that there were three of them because there are three gifts mentioned. But, I suppose there could have been just two Wise Men, and that one of them had more things to carry. In Bible College I read a journal article by a theologian who wrote that there might have been three hundred Wise Men. I think the theologian probably just made that stuff up, and probably didn’t even believe it himself. Maybe he was under a deadline, and couldn’t think of anything else to write.
Secondly, why do we sing about “Kings”? The Scripture calls them “Wise Men” and “Magi,” but never “Kings.” These men were astronomers and astrologers, not royalty. If I had to guess how the Wise Men came to be called Kings, I would bet that it all had to do with a Christmas program sometime back in the annuls of Church history. Some medieval congregation was acting out the Nativity story (as we all are so apt to do) and couldn’t figure how to dress the children portraying the Magi. Somebody mentioned that they had robes and crowns left over from the previous year’s presentation of “The Adventures of King David, King Solomon, and King Saul.” You can figure out what happened after that.
Finally, did you notice today’s Scripture text at the top? When the Wise Men find the Lord Jesus, he is about two years old. The meeting doesn’t take place at the manger scene; the holy family and Jesus are living in a “house.” The idea of the Wise Men coming to the stable to see the newborn Christ is probably a relic from somebody’s Christmas program, too. If you rewrite the script so that you have the Magi coming to the manger, you don’t have to build a separate “set” for your cantata. Enough said.
It brings me a lot of joy to think about the little Lord Jesus meeting the Wise Men—the way we read about it in the Bible. It really puts a different spin on things when you think about Jesus being a little boy when He received His gifts. After all, 2-year-olds can talk a little, and they can walk a lot! I always picture the Christ child running around barefoot on the dirt floor, and then drawing close and tilting His head to see the presents that the Wise Men are taking out of their treasures. That’s because the Lord Jesus was a real little boy.
That realization is very important to me. If we’re not careful, we’ll start to think of Jesus Christ in terms of the perfect painting on a Christmas card. But that’s completely wrong. He was a real as we are, and He lived in the same broken world that we live in now. He knows what it is to be human, and understands what we are going through. That’s why we should put our trust in Him—because He is real, and He really cares.
Dr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and has spent the last 26 years being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days has a desk-job at a public school and teaches Latin on closed-circuit-television.) He and his lovely wife, Susan, and his sons, Spencer (age 20) and Seth (age 17) live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where the Preacher’s sons’ favorite carol used to be “We Three Kings of Orient Are, Tried to Smoke a Rubber Cigar.” ) He would love to hear from you in an email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.