When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. – Matthew 2:3
It seems every Christmas there is a myth buster who will tell us that 3 figures in our manger scenes do not belong there.
Next to the shepherds, sheep, cows, and the holy family are the wise men, kings or magi. Critics graciously remind us that we don’t know how many there were, and they likely arrived a couple of years later. And they probably weren’t kings, despite the shape of the figurines and the title of the famous song.
Such myth busting does not concern me. I paid too much money for my manger scene to leave out three pieces until January. Also, the magi are extremely important precisely because they DO NOT belong there.
These magi were likely “magicians,” not like Harry Potter, but more like astrologers. They were the type that would write the daily horoscopes for the Baghdad Daily News. To 1st century Jews, they are pagan astrologers from enemy territory.
Imagine the chaos that would ensue if officials from Iraq, Syria or Iran were to approach Prime Minister Netanyahu. They want to know where to find a new Israeli leader – all based on reliable intelligence that was unavailable to Israel. That’s pretty much what the magi are doing. Early readers of Matthew 2:1-12 were probably shocked and possibly offended by their inclusion in this story.
Imagine putting out of place figures in manger scenes in churches and front lawns: Batman could be standing on the roof of the manger. The Avengers, who were watching their sheep at night, could be visiting the newborn Jesus. Garden trolls, instead of cows and sheep, could be gathered around the manger.
People might be shocked and offended by these figures that do not belong on a manger scene. But people would stop their cars and pay attention.
Shocking misplacements persist throughout the Gospels: Samaritan adulterers, immoral prostitutes, corrupt tax collectors, despised Roman soldiers, and ostracized lepers, and pagan astrologers: Often God chooses to reveal himself to people who do not belong, not to “devout” believers.
If you have 3 king-like magi in your manger scenes, please know that they do not belong. This is precisely why we need to keep them there.