Dec 5, 2009

Three Wise Men (Part One)

Remember the guys in the second act of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Those guys in Italy were trying to protect the tomb and were chasing Indy in the boats? Yeah, those guys are kind of like the Wise men. Start with that idea. Apparently, early Christian legends tell of twelve wise men living in the East. Twelve, seven and three are special numbers in the Bible. Forty is too, mostly because it seems that forty was as high as anyone could count in antiquity, so it was like saying a Gazillion.

Now these twelve dudes, hanging out in the East had a special treasure. It was a scroll written by Seth, the son of Adam. Except, Seth would be his third son? Anyway, on this special scroll was written prophecy concerning the Messiah of the Jews and the star which would appear at His birth. The group of wise men devoted themselves to watching for the Messiah's star. From generation to generation, every month, these twelve wise men would ascend into a mountain cave and spend three days purifying themselves in its fountains, searching for the star, and praying to be led to the Messiah. As each man died, his son or other close relative took his place. According to some, when these men were not being wise men, they were simple farmers and only went up on the mountain for a few days each year after the corn was threshed. Or, you know, needed an elaborate excuse to get away from their wives.

There's only three because there must have been a game on, or maybe the rest of the gang went out the night before... that's the funny thing about legends, they're not full of the details I'm interested in.

About the year 6 B.C., the long awaited star appeared. It shone brightly in the shape of a beautiful boy child with a cross glowing behind him. The star-child announced, "The King of the Jews is born in Judea. Go quickly to worship him." Was that Kubrick's star-child at the end of 2001? Creepy.

Some say the Christ-Star miraculously enabled the wise men to reach Jerusalem in 12 or 13 days without stopping for food or rest. The journey seemed to last only a day! Others say the journey took about two years during which the Christ-Star taught them the Gospel of Peace and replenished their supplies of food and water so they had no need to stop on the way to Jerusalem. This legend was so popular that Chrysostom included it in his commentaries. In the modern era it would be retold as the movie 'Convoy.'

A later legend states that a young shepherdess named Madelon met the wise men journeying to Bethlehem and wept because she had no suitable gift to give a king. Catching the sweet aroma of a lily, Madelon looked up from her tears and found an angel standing before her with a wand made of lilies. As soon as she shared the cause of her sorrow with the angel, it waved its wand, causing the road to Bethlehem to be lined with white Christmas roses. Whhhaaa?? Madelon gathered a bouquet of these flowers as she ran to catch up with the wise men. In Bethlehem, she presented her roses to the Christ Child and His touch caused them to glow with a pink tinge. Sounds like someone had some extra roses to sell around Christmas time and had no idea how to move them. And who in their right mind gives a baby roses, let alone lets the baby touch a rose?

In exchange for their expensive gifts, Mary gave the wise men some of the swaddling clothes in which Jesus had been wrapped. She also gave them a little box with a stone in it. The stone was supposed to remind them that their faith ought to be as strong as a rock.

Mary must've neglected to tell them that because, thinking this stone was worthless baggage, the wise men tossed it into a well. Whereupon fire from heaven filled the well. The amazed wise men carried the fire back to their own country and built a magnificent cathedral around it so that the people could worship it. Later, they were baptized and, giving all their possessions to the poor, they went about living a life of poverty and preaching the Gospel of Peace until their martyrdom in India. What? That doesn't make any sense. Why would they worship fire instead of the Christ Child? Wouldn't these guys be the first Christians? Instead they revert to fire worship?

Although it is common to see images of the wise men worshiping Jesus in the manger, two scripture passages make it seem more likely that the Child was a toddler living in a rented house in Bethlehem at the time of the wise men's visit. According to Matthew 2:11, the wise men came "into the house" and saw "the young Child with Mary His mother." And in Matthew 2:16, it is written that Herod put to death all the male children who were "two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men." Mel Brooks would argue that this plan is 'too Jewish.'

The star which the wise men followed appeared in fulfillment of the prophecy of Balaam: "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel..." (Num 24:17). The most likely scientific explanation for the Christmas star is that a triple planetary conjunction occurred in the House of the Hebrews (Pisces) on February 6, 6 B.C. and appeared to be a temporary new star. But no scientific explanation for the star's appearance is necessary, because we're talking about faith in the first place. At various times, Christians have believed this star was an angel, the Christ Child, the Holy Spirit, or even a temporary star created only for this mission and then removed from creation. It would seem that if it were a Super Nova there would be record of it in other cultures, say in China where a Dynasty would have fallen because of an unknown and unpredicted celestial event occurred. I would also expect that the Mayans or Aztecs would have also noted an unexpected temporary new star. You can't tell me that it was cloudy all over the planet...

That's about as much as I can digest right now. These legends and side stories and fan fiction are extremely difficult to piece together.

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