Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Magi at the Manger?

Most of us have some sort of stable scene in our house as part of our commemoration of Christ's birth. One of the pastors at my congregation prefers that the magi are not present at the stable with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the barnyard animals, at least before January 6th, the traditional date of the Epiphany celebration that commemorates the visit of the Magi. In many places I see the Magi taking circuitous routes around offices and homes as they await their appearance before Jesus and His earthly family.

From a purely historical perspective, I understand this. The shepherds and magi could not have been with Jesus at the same time. The shepherds arrived shortly after the birth of Jesus. Some scholars estimated that the magi did not visit Jesus until he was almost two years old, and then found Jesus at a house (Matt. 2:11). As a result, some prefer that the magi are largely independent of the traditional stable scene, such as below.

For me, the magi belong at the manger with Jesus, amidst the shepherds and the rest of the participants in that first Christmas. There are two primary reasons why I prefer this:

1. The stable scene with both the shepherds and magi shows how Jesus is for all, both Jew and Gentile, and that Jesus is acknowledged at birth as our King by both Jew and Gentile from the beginning of His earthly life.

2. If we are concerned about the historical accuracy of the traditional manger scene, then there are many things we should reconsider. The fact is that we know very little about what the first Christmas was like. The gospel writers are frustratingly (from a human perspective) skimpy on the details. A stable is never mentioned as the birthplace of Jesus, only that the baby was placed in a manger. It is from this detail where we assume a stable was the place of birth. The stable could have been an outer structure for the animals. More likely, it could have been a cave, though some scholars have suggested that the "stable" could have been the lower level of a multi-level structure where animals congregated. How many shepherds were there? How many animals? The fact is that the traditional scene is likely riddled with historical inaccuracies, with or without the magi.

I prefer the gathering of the shepherds and the magi with the holy family as a symbolic reminder of the full scope of the Christmas story -- that Jesus came to save ALL and that He is acknowledged as KING of ALL. This is not to say that there is a right or wrong answer to the question -- just sharing a personal preference and the reasons for this choice. Therefore, the magi will stay at the manger in our home throughout the entire Christmas season.

What do you think? Do the magi belong at the manger? Share your thoughts on this question as a comment to this post.

1 comment:

  1. The magi need to be "en-route" until Epiphany, if only because it's easier to argue with you than Stoltenow! ;)