Unfortunately, the story of the wise men visiting Jesus – like most of the Christmas story – has been simplified, romanticized, and domesticated.
None of that is good.
Here’s what I mean:
The story of the wise men visiting Jesus has been simplified in most of our minds to the point where about all we picture is the image at the stable (which actually took place in a house, but that’s another matter) – you know, regal-looking figures bowing down before baby Jesus, holding out their little treasure chests.
But that is only one of about five or six “scenes” in a longer, complex story involving astrology, the magi visiting the city of Jerusalem and asking around about “the King of the Jews,” King Herod summoning chief priests and scribes and then the wise men, then the travel to Bethlehem and then the visit, and ending with a dream in which they are told not to return to Herod but to go home another way.
The story has been romanticized in most of our minds to the point where we imagine the story line like this: “wise-men-on-camels-calmly-but-confidently-following-star-which-glows-above-stable; they offer gifts, and calmly return home.”
But the real story involves political intrigue, prophetic fulfillment of an ultimate ruler coming from an insignificant city, feelings “overwhelming joy” that are only surpassed by King Herod’s paranoia over the possibility of losing political power (a paranoia that will soon have him dispatch soldiers to massacre all male babies in the areas under the age of two), and divine protection of the wise men in the form of a dream-warning.
And what I mean by the story has been domesticated is that it is – in most of our minds – a safe, friendly, cheerful little story. Verses the risky, uncertain, murderous-political, fast-paced, mysterious, joyful-tragic story that it is in the Bible.
When we domesticate the wise men (as when we domesticate Jesus), it doesn’t do them any good.
And worse, it doesn’t do US any good.
Because – as I hope to unpack a little more in Sunday’s sermon – the real story of the wise men (and of Jesus)…the story as it is told in Scripture…is far more wild, raw, topsy-turvy, dangerous, surprising, and earthy than we’ve made it out to be.
In other words, the story is about real life.
The real life they lived, giving hope and courage to the real life we live.