The Christ Child and the Wise Men
by Gary Amirault, Christmas, 1998
Jesus once said, "By your traditions, you have made the word of God of no effect and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matt. 15:6-9) Surely the modern traditions of Christmas fall under this Scripture.
Note: While this article is not primarily about setting straight historical events in the Bible, a little historical background is needed so there is no confusion when I talk about the Magi's visit apart from the traditional view. The Magi, despite our traditional manger scenes and Christmas Cantatas were NOT present at the birth of Jesus Christ.
A Little Biblical and Historical Background
The Wisemen (or Magi, astrologers) showed up many months AFTER the shepherds of Israel heard the announcement from the angel. Surely, there is enough evidence from the Bible to know that Jesus was not born in the month of December at all. The shepherds of Israel would NOT be in the fields during this month. (Luke 2:8) When the Magi came, Luke informs us that Jesus was a "paidion" (toddler), not a "brephos" (infant). So while Jesus was surely not born during what we call today, the Christmas season, He may have received a visit from the Magi of Babylon over a year later during that season. It seems our modern Christmas "tradition" has combined two separate events into one. There is also the possibility that the "Feast of Lights," Hannakah may have been occurring during the Magi's visit that year. Since Jews kept a lunar/solar calendar and based the dates of the holidays around the sun, moon and agricultural events, the days of the year these holidays occur change each year sometimes by as much as an entire month. According to Dr. Martin's book "The Star that Astonished the World," the Magi came in the third day of the "Feast of Lights." There is an incredible amount of evidence available now, which many planetariums use for their Christmas shows that shows that what the Magi were probably following was planetary alignments, NOT a single magical star that led the Wisemen like something out of a Disney film. I cannot go into the details of this information because it would require too many pages for this short article. The two books listed at the end of this article are highly recommended reading.
We, Christians, have added many things to our traditions without really following through to see if they are actually true to the Biblical record. For example, we usually place 3 Wisemen at the manger scene. Where does the Bible say there were three? It doesn't. We INFER there were three because of the number of gifts. There is an early church tradition which said there were 12. It's possible that BOTH are wrong.
We know that Herod, according to Matthew, killed all the male children under the age of 2 years old. Why two year olds if Jesus was being born at that very time? We also know from the writer of Matthew that when the Wisemen came Jesus was no longer in a stable. He was in a house whereas when the shepherds of Israel came, He was "lying in a manger" in a stable. (Matt. 2:11) ("To the Jews first" and then to the Gentiles.)
It seems quite appropriate the first announcement of the birth of the Lamb of God was spoken to the shepherds of Israel. The political shepherds in Jerusalem were busy "fleecing" the flock of God. But the lowly real shepherds of the fields would know how to receive the Lamb of God with honor and respect. It is the humble who shall see God, NOT the proud.
As I mentioned, the details of the astronomical signs which occurred during 3 BC and 2 BC which laid out birth of Christ are beyond the scope of this writing. Suffice it to say, that during those two years, the planets and stars told a story that was absolutely incredible, so incredible that the Great Magi of Babylon felt compelled to take a long journey at great expense to see the One to Whom the whole heavens appeared to be pointing.
During this time, it seemed everyone was intently watching the skies. The Roman astrologers, the Jewish prophets, and the Babylonian Magi, all felt that a new era was upon them. Of course, how each of the groups interpreted these signs was another matter. The way the Romans read these signs opened the door for them to enter into an era of worshipping their caesars as gods. Julius Caesar was the first to entertain such notions. Others much more bold would soon follow.
In the midst of all this fanfare and great celebrations, in an obscure Jewish village named Bethlehem (House of Bread), the Savior of the world was born. No, not on December 25, year 0, but on one of Israel's most important High Holidays September 11 in the year 3 BC, the Feast of Trumpets. (According to Dr. Martin)
Just as Jesus' birth was obscure to His people in Israel because of the traditions of men, the events surrounding His birth still remain obscure to His present-day people (Christians) for the very same reasons. I saw a poll on television recently which revealed that Santa Claus was a more recognizable Christmas image than was Jesus.)
In this article I want to focus on the encounter between the Christ Child, the Messiah of Israel, and the Wisemen from Babylon. This did NOT occurred at His birth, but well over a year later.
The Magi's Visit
These Magi, were counselors to the kings of Babylon. Their schools of astrology were established many centuries before and well known throughout the East. Certainly Herod and court had enough respect for them to receive them. They, too, were expecting great things. Although Rome usually placed a proconsul in its conquered nations, Israel was a unique exception and was allowed a king. Rome was very lenient regarding tributes from Israel and even allowed Herod to collect Temple taxes. This allow Herod to start many great building projects throughout the region including the rebuilding of the Temple which would be torn down stone by stone shortly after it was built just as Jesus prophesied.
Herod too, wanted to know where this King would be born, but not worship Him as he told the Magi, but to kill him. This caused Jesus' parents to bring the child to Egypt even as Abraham and Moses before him went down to Egypt for a season.
The Magi Arrive
Imagine yourself a Babylonian Magi. What would you expect to find when paying homage to the "Great King" of a foreign nation? These Magi spent many nights studying the stars, looking for certain omens and signs which would be used to advise the kings of Babylon and other religious and political leaders. They were highly educated men in respect to their era. The Jewish prophet Daniel, in his time, was put in charge of men like this. (Dan. 5:11) They probably had special costumes which distinguished them from other citizens. Being so close to the king's inner family, sometimes they were made eunuchs to make sure that king's wife did not produce illegitimate heirs. (Dan. 1:18) Cultured and wise were these men and their days and night were probably consumed giving advice to the king and other important leaders on the most important matters of their kingdom. There were probably very serious types, considering their lives were in constant jeopardy. It was not uncommon for messengers of bad news to lose their lives.
Before advancing to Bethlehem, the Bible tells us the Wisemen stopped in Jersalem, a city their country had destroyed hundreds of years before. At this very time, the king of Israel, was engaged in an extensive building campaign. Jerusalem, by the time the building program was complete would be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. One of Herod's greatest architectural achievements was the rebuilding of the Temple. During the entire life of Jesus and for over 30 years after Jesus' resurrection, this Temple was being built. It had already been 46 years in the making when Jesus spoke of His body being the True Temple of God. (John 2:20) Shortly, after it was finally completed, this Temple would be torn down stone by stone by the Romans just as Jesus predicted in Mark 13:2.
Jerusalem was known at the "city of the great king." And yet it would not be the place for the great king to be born, but to be crucified. During their stay in Jerusalem, the star which guided them became hidden from sight for a while before it finally reappeared and directed them to "the House of Bread," that is, to the village of Bethlehem, "the City of David."
Imagine yourself as one of these primp and proper Magi traveling hundreds of miles to visit an infant in a land which had previously been conquered by your country. Your caravan arrives at the door of a poor carpenter in a tiny insignificant village. All the Jews in this tiny village surround your camels and servants wondering what is going on. A knock on the door--a young Jewish woman opens. Straddling her hip is a curious little kid of about a year and a half. His complexion, as is the complexion of all native inhabitants, is olive--dark curly locks hair hang from His head. His eyes are deep black and carry a gaze that makes the conscience do funny things that makes one drop their heads or turn away.
You and the other Magi are invited in. In the traditional Eastern custom, you are invited to "break bread" with them in the city named "the House of Bread." While you are trying to gather your thoughts, trying to figure out how this could possibly be the house from which a "great king" would come forth, the child which was straddled on the young mother's hip comes up from behind you and pulls on your turban, pulling it loose. As you turn around ,you find yourself looking deep into his eyes and you know you have just looked into eternity itself.
"Joshua, stop that! Come over here right now," Miriam (Mary) calls to him. "Play, play," giggles the little toddler. Being drawn by this child's joyful expressions, you tell His mother, "It's all right. Let Him play among us. It has been a long time since we have seen such a delightful child. Allow us the joy of seeing Him be Himself."
The World's Attitude towards Children
These were strange words coming from men as important as these Magi. Children, in many cultures did not have much value during that time nor even for many centuries to come throughout much of the world. According to Julius Marathus, a personal confidant of Augustus Caesar, the Roman Senate in the year 63 B.C. ordered all boy babies to be killed who were born in that year because of prophetic dreams and astrological signs suggesting that a "King of the Romans" was to be born. (from Martin's book) We have here a strange twist of fate. The Romans were willing to kill these babies because they did NOT want a king over them. The Rome was a republic ruled by Senatorial families who did not want full power in the hands of one individual. Herod, who was given the kingship of the Jews by the Romans ordered the killing of the babies because he wanted to keep the kingship within his family. We see two different reasons for the killing of babies.
Most of the world throughout its history, despite its rhetoric of the sanctity of life, has actually treated its children horribly. In the Roman Empire and many other parts of the world, it was customary to kill many of the female babies because it was just another mouth to feed. Women were inferior beings and often not considered worth keeping alive. Even male children, when born to Romans, had to be presented at the feet of the father, who at that time decided whether the child should live or die. The aristocratic society of the Roman Empire was too involved with themselves to have much interest in raising children. Oh, they said all the right words about protecting the children of the empire, but just like in the modern Western countries of today, the rhetoric over concerns about children far outweighs their actions. Western countries are strong supporters and promoters of birth control and abortion. Western leaders make great speeches about human rights and alleviating the starving conditions of the world's children. But when it comes to putting their mouth where their dollars, marks, franks, and lires are, mankind spends far more on weapons of destruction which kill children by the thousands than to provide a world-wide policy to end child starvation and abuse, abortion, child pornography and enslavement. Mrs. Clinton, our first lady went to a woman's conference in China to fight for women's rights, a country which forced abortion upon their women, a country whose medical doctors, leading citizens, and those who can afford to pay for them, are now eating aborted fetuses. They say eating them is good for the complexion. Our First Lady and her husband, President Clinton, not only did not voice a single word of protest, not long after that, they signed a partial birth abortion bill allowing American doctors to birth a babies body, then insert a pair of scissors into the back of its head, suck out its brains, and sell the remains for the "betterment of society." Yes, the ancient peoples of this world, civilized or uncivilized were worse than cannibals in some regards. It seems some things just don't change.
These Magi came from a country whose soldiers in times past were known to flail people alive and hang their skins out to dry. They came from a country whose hearts had grown cold to the cares of little children. They came to Jerusalem to find the Christ Child and found a king who was ready to kill all the children of the city to prevent a successor to his throne from a family other than his own.
"Come here, Yeshua, look, we have brought you gifts from afar." (Yeshua, "Yah saves" is Jesus' name in Hebrew. It is the same word as Joshua in the O.T.) You hand Him a large gold coin freshly minted in Nineveh. Yeshua, like any other normal child still being breast-fed, after being fascinated by the shininess of the coin, sticks it in his mouth. "No, Yeshua, that's not for the mouth, that's money to buy things." Everyone chuckles at the expression Yeshua makes as He tries to understand what His mother just said. He does not yet understand the concept of money and mammon.
While sitting on the lap of one of the Magi, Yeshua becomes enthralled with his peculiarly manicured beard. His delicate soft tiny fingers become buried in this old man's beard. Yeshua's life-filled eyes are fully absorbed with this fur hanging from this head covered with such a strange-looking hat. All of a sudden, Yeshua's tiny hand finds itself in the mouth of the wiseman who finds himself nibbling at Yeshua's little fingers. This prompts a giant smile and a loud laugh from the Christ Child. Everyone is the room is absorbed by the center of attention, a little child doing what He knows best to do play.
The Wiseman's heart is burning with a deep desire to return to such innocence! Oh, how the world would change if man could return to such simplicity and trust for one another. Another of the Wisemen calls to Yeshua to receive the Frankencense. As Yeshua toddles over to him, his feet give way and plop, down on his tush He falls. The startled look on Yeshua's face makes everyone smile or laugh. What an expression of life! What joy to babes experiencing and enjoying the most simple things in life. Again, Yeshua finds no other purpose for the Frankincense or Myrrh except to put it in His mouth, "No, Yeshua, bad, bad," yells Mary in a controlled yet firm manner.
Fascinated by an amulet around one of the men's necks, Yeshua toddles over to him to inspect this large intricately shaped object. While Yeshua's eyes and little fingers study the object intently, the man puts Yeshua on his knee and bounces him up and down while making a donkey sound. "Heehaaaw, heehaaww. This brings forth invokes a great smile and continuous delightful giggles and a little slobber dripping down from the corner of His mouth which drops on the Magi's fine threads. Well, if Yeshua found a donkey ride so amusing, surely He would find a camel rides even more exciting. The man put little Yeshua on his back and while on his hands and knees made the motions of a camel while Yeshua held onto his finely knit princely garments. What a sight! Everyone was roaring with laughter. One could sense in the air the desire of everyone to return to the simplicity and innocense so perfectly expressed by Yeshua, Son of Man. These men dressed in the garments of the greatest wisdom of "Baby"lon on their hands and knees on a dirt floor in an obscure Jewish village on the day which the Roman Empire would later call the "Dies Natale Invictus" (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun) which would be known a couple centuries later as "Cryst-mass." Beginning small, but adding steam as it incorporated other pagan traditions, the day would eventually become known as "Christmas." (See "The Christmas Star" by John Mosley)
These Wisemen were very familiar with Sun-god worship, they had worshipped fire and the Sun for many centuries. The reason why December 25 was selected for the Great Day of Sun-god worship among the pagan countries was because it was the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. The Sun was dying and needed man's help in order to regain the strength to come to full length again. And so, man offered much fire during that day to strengthen the sun. We get the term "bonfire" from when the pagans burned the bones of sacrificed animals on that day. ==================
I do not find it strange that the God and Father of us all would first present His son to those outside of Israel in the form of a child at its most enjoyable age. For me, children are most enjoyable when they first begin to walk and talk until about the age of five. Jesus was presented to the world at the beginning of this toddler period. He could walk and talk.
I imagine, since Jesus was perfect in all ways, that He was also a perfect toddler. He was full of joy, love, trust, innocence, curiosity .He was full of life!! Jesus would never be filled with the fears, superstitions, prejudices, taboos, that many of us become filled with as we enter our societies. He came to set us free from all these things. It is often these things that we inject into our children which makes them fearful and self-centered.
The wisemen came to pay homage to the Great King with gifts of gold, frankensense, and murr and left with the True Gift from the Father of us all-- Jesus came to bring to all mankind---abundant life!
John 10:10 (KJV) The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
The wisemen had lived their entire life under the power of the thief. Jesus told us that the wisdom of the kingdom of heaven was found in little children, NOT in wiseMEN, kings, politicians, merchants and religion leaders. The qualities of innocent babes is what eternity is all about. When the wisemen looked into the eternal eyes of kingdom of God itself, their hearts became full of the very joy the Christ Child came to give to the world. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! The Christ Child filled their hearts with joy unspeakable, a joy which reminded them of a spark which they once had in their childhood, a spark which was quickly snuffed out by the traditions of their society. But Jesus brought back the spark AND laughed on it and gave it more life! Looking into the eyes of the Christ Child they saw the kingdom of God, they saw that it was not in Babylon, that ancient city, nor in Jerusalem, the city of the King, nor in Bethlehem, the city of David. The kingdom of God was is in our hearts and unless one becomes as a little child, they cannot enter into it. Looking into Yeshua's eyes, the Wisemen not only saw the King of world, they saw their own hearts before they were corrupted by the foul traditions of men. Looking into Yeshua's eyes, they themselves as they truly are, they saw themselves as their Maker sees them and all fear and condemnation vanished away. They looked into the future, looked into eternity itself and walked away in perfect peace knowing that ultimately all would be well with everyone--everywhere. They had rediscovered their own pristine hearts in the heart of God and they left satisfied.
Mark 9:37 (Peterson's "The Message") "Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me-God who sent me."
The Wisemen had embraced God Himself and in so doing became fools for Christ. Their hearts and minds had become one with this Child. Lest they betray their new found king to the King of Jerusalem (City of the Great King its name meaning peace) and Israel, they avoided this city and returned to their country another way with hope in their hearts--a hope that all mankind would return to the purity of mind and heart of little children. The world will dramatically change when "wisemen" become as little children again.
John 13:31-35 (KJV) Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
"The Star that Astonished the World"
by Dr. Ernest Martin.
A.S.K Publications, PO Box 25000, Portland, Oregon 97225
"The Christmas Star"
by John Mosley.
Griffith Observatory, 2800 E. Observatory Rd., Los Angeles, California 90027
"The Heavens Declare" by J. Preston
(A long series of articles which prove that while the Israelites were NOT allowed to practice astrology, God certainly laid out the heavens to tell the story of Jesus the Messiah in a most panoramic and awesome way.) PO Box 371240, El Paso, TX. 79937
"The Christ Child and the Wisemen"
was published by Tentmaker
Publications, 118 Walnut, Hermann, Missouri 65041
P.S. We have a lengthier version of this article that contains more historical and contemporary information for those who are interested. I realize many of you may have preferred I leave out the parts about how we abuse children in the modern world, but I feel it is necessary to point out how far we have fallen. Modern civilized countries are no more civilized than was ancient Rome or Babylon. We have simply invented more sophisticated whitewash (spinmeisters, public relations, etc.) to hide our sins. 2 Chronicles 7:14