2018-05-21

What about those wisemen?

After the Baby Jesus was born, angels of the heavenly host appeared to local shepherds, proclaiming the wonderful news. As anyone who has ever owned a nativity set knows, the shepherds came to the manger and worshiped the Christ Child. Then Luke writes that the shepherds returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen. Matthew writes that after that, Wise Men from the East came in search of the newborn Messiah. But did they find Him in a manger?

Artwork: The Adoration of the Magi by Peter_Paul_Rubens

The Bible doesn’t say!

There’s no mention of the manager or a stable in Matthew’s description of the Wise Men’s visit. We do know that eight days after His birth, Jewish law required that the newborn Jesus had to be circumcised just as had every Israelite male since the time of Abraham. The Bible indicates that during this ceremony, He was formally named Jesus, which means “Deliverer.”

Artwork: The Circumcision of Christ by Luca Signorelli

Visiting the Temple

Some time later, following Jewish tradition, Joseph and Mary took their newborn to Jerusalem to present Him at the Temple. Since they were poor, they didn’t sacrifice a lamb. Instead, they offered a pair of doves. As this was going on, an elderly man named Simeon who was righteous and devout received a word from the Lord. The Bible says that he had been "waiting for the consolation of Israel," and that it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Deliverer, the Messiah – the Christ.

Artwork: Jesus Presented in the Temple by Rogier van der Weyden

Simeon in the Temple

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When Mary and Joseph brought in, Jesus, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying that now he could die in peace, "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

Among themselves, Mary and Joseph marveled at what the old man said about their baby. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.

Artwork: Simeon receives Jesus in the Temple by Simon Vouet

Anna the prophetess

There was also an elderly prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher who "never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying."

Coming up to Mary and Joseph, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Artwork: Hannah and Simeon in the Temple by Rembrandt

Then, back home

The Bible says Mary and Joseph then returned to Bethlehem.

Visiting a corrupt king

Some time later – and we really don’t know how much later – those famous scholars from the East arrived in Jerusalem and presented themselves to the Roman-appointed ruler of Judea, the corrupt King Herod. The unexpected visitors asked Herod, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

When Herod heard this, he was disturbed. The news raced throughout Jerusalem. A new king had been born? The long-awaited Messiah? Herod did not like the idea of an usurper and called together the chief priests and teachers of the law and asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, quoting to him from the Old Testament prophets Micah and Isaiah.

Go find the child …

Then Herod summoned the visiting scholars and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I may go and worship him."

So, they left with the star leading them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed. Upon entering the house where the family was staying, they saw the child with Mary, and bowed down and worshiped Him.

Artwork: The Adoration of the Kings by Fray Juan Bautista Maino

Gifts

Then they presented him with expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. However, the Bible says God warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they returned home by another route.

The text does not give the visitors’ names – although tradition says they were Melchior, Baltazar and Gaspar. Nor does the Bible indicate they were kings. It doesn’t say where they were from.

Why do we think there three scholars? That’s based on the three gifts. However, there could have been two or ten or any other number. The Bible simply does not say.

Artwork: The Magi, Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Barcelona, Spain, architect Antoni Gaudi

They went to a house!

Also, it is assumed that they were not present the night of His birth since the Bible says they came to "the house" where He was staying – not a stable. So, time must have passed and Joseph must have found a house for his new family, right?

Six weeks later?

Tradition has it that the Wise Men did not arrive until six weeks after His birth – and some believe they may have arrived even a year and a half afterward. That’s based on the terrible thing that happened next – when evil King Herod ordered every male child under the age of two in the Bethlehem area killed. Something must have made Herod think the birth could have occurred as long as two years before. Was that based on what the scholars told him concerning the first appearance of the star?

We really don’t know. We do know that when the visiting scholars had gone, an angel of the Lord warned Joseph to get up from his sleep and to take the child and His mother and escape to Egypt. "Stay there," the Lord told him, "until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So Joseph got up from his bed, took the child and His mother during the night and left for Egypt, where they stayed. How did a poor carpenter afford such a trip? Did the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh underwrite the trip?

Artwork: The Flight into Egypt by William Hole

A furious king

When Herod realized the eastern scholars weren’t coming back to report what they had found, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and the vicinity.

That fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy hundreds of years earlier: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

Artwork: The Massacre of the Innocents by Giotto di Bondone

So, when did the wise men get there? We don’t really know.

However, the Bible tells us it’s highly improbable that the shepherds and Wise Men showed up at the same time. Tradition says that they showed up on "Epiphany" -- a feast day celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox churches in January.;

The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian feast was in A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus.

Artwork: The Magi by Henry Siddons Mowbray

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