Thursday, January 04, 2007
Today we are dusting off the Three Kings for the final act of the manger scene. We have our own set at home and the giant set at the church.
In recent years I've had trouble figuring out what to call them. They weren't kings, really. We don't know how many of them actually showed up. Technically, all we know is they were men from the east.
I'm not even going with 'wise'.
Here we have an nasty king Herod, known for his paranoia and cruelty. He actually killed his own sons to stay in power, prompting the Romans to say it would be safer to be Herod's hogs (kosher) than Herod's sons. And what do these 'wise men' do? They show up at the castle asking where they might find the new king.
So Herod says to them, "Well, when you find him come back and let me know so I can go pay him homage, too."
The fellows from the east smell a rat....finally....and take a different route home to duck Herod. But Herod already has enough information to take care of things on his own. He orders all male children under the age of two slaughtered.
(The Feast of the Holy Innocents which has passed already, by the way, is out of chronological order. Just another reminder to calm down about being too literal when nosing around in the Bible on your own.)
We know they weren't kings. The New Testament doesn't say kings. It doesn't even say there were three of them. It says wise men from the east.
Okay....it does say 'wise'. Although there is another reason this is a little problematic. Historians agree that they were most likely astrologers. Astrology was the most important science of the day, so an astrologer would have been considered to be a very wise man indeed.
In the Catholic church astrology is a sin. I can't think why astrology wouldn't have been a sin then either. No one has addressed this problem as far as I can tell.
How did we end up with three? Most people chalk it up to the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
But I have a more complex theory and I'm not just pulling it out of my veil.
You may recall that for many years plays and theater were just non-existent because all of that was considered sinful. The only theater that was allowed was Catholic church related so all of that energy went into creating spectacular Passion plays that told the whole life of Christ.
In those plays there were as many as twelve men from the east arriving at the manger.
Here's another thing....they didn't come to the manger. The New Testament clearly states that they saw the "child" at His "house".
Anyhow, the Passion plays had twelve men to represent the twelve tribes. (Which is also misguided since the whole point of having these fellows show up is to show that Jesus is for everyone, not just the Jews. The men from the east are gentiles.)
Now twelve people on stage on camels just takes up a ton of room. So the numbers dwindles over the years to three, each with a gift to bring. Pah rumpa pum pum.
We're dealing with actors here, so "King One, King Two and King Three" is not going to make them happy.
"Where am I from?" "How did I hook up with these other two?" "What's my motivation?"
"Okay....you're Balthasar and you'll be...um...Melchior and you can be..."
"I'll be Gaspar! That's my grandpa's name!"
I think that's the way it went. I think that's also how we ended up with a black one, an old one and the other guy. Actors.
We'll dust them off, just the same and look to the big picture. Men from the east fulfilled an ancient prophecy. Both the lowly shepards and the most educated men of the day paid homage to the new king that came for everyone.
Without their gifts none of us would get any Christmas presents.
And we'll call them guests from out of town.