Sunday, February 28, 2010

Matthew 2: 1-12

In Matthew 2:1-12, Jesus has been born and the magi are looking for him. Even though there's a large star that guides them, they drop by Herod's palace to ask him if he's heard of the baby. This story seems to establish that the importance of Jesus is acknowledged by 1) a star 2) three wise men who march in and out of history. It also is a way to let us know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, thereby fulfilling another Old Testament prophecy, this time from the book of Micah. It also sets us up for the manifestation of Herod's fear and jealousy when he learns that a new king has been born.

What interests me about Matthew 2:1-12 is the mythology that has arisen over these few verses. Some of that mythology is expressed in song. For example, in We Three Kings, the wise men are not only given names, the verses express the (made-up) meaning behind the gifts they give. Melchior gives gold to show that Jesus is a king forever; Gaspar gives frankincense because it shows his deity; and Balthazar gives myrrh to represent the tomb where Jesus is sealed after his crucifixion. In the last verse of the carol, Jesus arises. Those names aren't mentioned in the Bible and are part of a later tradition.* According to the Oxford Book of Christmas Carols, We Three Kings was written by Dr. J.H. Hopkins, a U.S. minister, around 1857.

I grew up in an independent Christian Church, an inheritor of the Stone Campbell Restoration Movement, where we were taught to base our beliefs only on what it says in the Bible; yet we sang this decidedly unbiblical song with names derived from Catholic tradition. That's what Christianity is like today--a hodgepodge of scripture, interpretation, legend, tradition, and nonsense.

*The Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent has a lengthy and somewhat interesting discussion about the magi.

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