While wrapping Christmas gifts last evening I thought about the reason behind holiday present giving which, for many of us, includes last minute, frantic, crowded shopping and which, for me at least, sometimes generates some un-Christmas like thoughts about my fellow shoppers.
Blame it on magi, the original gift bearers.
We know very little about these guys although thanks to the gospel writer Matthew they are etched in Christian and Christmas history. Magi are introduced in Matthew chapter 2, verse 1 with a simple statement of fact: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem . . . ”
Following some political maneuvering and underhanded planning by Herod, the king sent the magi on their way to Bethlehem where, after “coming into the house,” they found the Child, fell down and worshipped Him then opened their treasures and presented their presents. Mathew mentions three gifts. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. There could have been others, of course.
Magi gained commercial fame following the penning and publication of the Christmas carol “We Three Kings” in 1857. You probably know the song, which opens with the catchy lines: “We three kings of Orient are Bearing gifts we traverse afar . . . “
It remains one of the most popular Christmas songs but takes some liberties with the Biblical facts.
The precise number of magi is unknown. There was more than one because Matthew records magi telling Herod, “. . . we saw His star in the east and have come to worship him.” Christian tradition assumes there were three magi because three gifts are listed. They almost certainly were not kings. They likely were men of prominent class standing.
However, they are not remembered for who they were or where they were from or the gifts they presented, but for seeking and honoring the Christ. The gifts shadow that.
Read the story and decide for yourself. Matthew 2: 1-12.