Matthew Chapter two is one of my favorite bible stories because of the tradition that is pulled from it, albeit incredibly presumptive and somewhat ridiculous tradition. But that’s why it’s so good. Of course I’m talking about The Three Wise Men, Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar, the Babylonian Magi who came to worship the baby Jesus in the stable on the night of his birth and present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh representing the kingship, priestship, and future death of Jesus. (Nothing says happy birthday quite like foretelling your death.)
We sing songs about the Wise Men at Christmas time and plant them in our manger scenes. (I’m not going to lie, if I ever do a living nativity I won’t settle for a lesser role. Why be a shepherd when you can be a king?) In some countries they use the Three Wise Men in place of Santa Claus. (There are three of them and only one of Santa, so it makes sense in that regard, but Santa is kind of like Batman, he’s got gadgets and a cool vehicle, laborers who work for hot chocolate, and flying reindeer to help him…the Wise Men traveled by Camel. I’ll stick with Santa.)
But when you look at scripture, is that the story you see? There’s no mention of the number of Magi that visited, only that they gave three kinds of gifts. There’s no mention of when the arrived, though based on their conversations with Herod and the fact that after waiting a good while for the Magi to return to him with a report of Jesus, Herod decided to kill all children age two and under, it’s unlikely that they visited the Lord on the night of his birth, or even close to it. They ask Herod about Jesus who had already been born. And if we go with that belief, Jesus was probably out of the stable by then and into the inn. Or was there even an inn?. There are various reasons why they could have brought the gifts they brought, but there’s no mention of that in scripture. There’s also no mention of where they are from other than the East, but most people think that means Babylon.
We can’t rely on tradition when we have the Word of God at our fingertips. I grew up in a church that used little of the bible, and you never had one of your own to follow along. When it came time for the word you listened, or in my case, daydreamed about playing my nintendo as son as I got home. We sang songs about the three wise men, put them in our manger scene, and played them in our nativities. It was only a couple of years ago that I started to read the word and discovered that the names Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar aren’t in there.
My point is that you should know why you practice the traditions that you do, and you should know what is only tradition and what is truth in the word of God. It’s ok to ask questions about why we do things the way we do it, and it’s a dangerous place when we’re accepting things at face value and not searching out the word for truth.