We Three Kings Scientists?
(a Steve Orr scripture reflection)
Let’s just get this out on the table, up front: We don’t know.
The Christmas carol calls them “kings,” says there were three of them, and makes it plain they traveled “afar” from somewhere in the “Orient.”
None of that is likely.
Based on most cultures of that time and place, they probably were men. There is no evidence that they were kings, however. Three is the number of gifts they brought, according to Matthew, but he never states how many people came with those gifts. And, while scripture states they came from “the east,” nowhere does it say from how far east they traveled. Instead of kings, Matthew calls them “Magi,” a word generally used at that time meaning “wise men.” There’s nothing in the record to suggest they were particularly wise, though.
But were they, as some suggest, scientists? *
Here’s what we think we know. Some night sky watchers (astronomers?) from somewhere east of Israel saw a light in the sky they had never seen before. They interpreted its presence to mean a new “King of the Jews” had been born. Somehow, this light—the star—appeared to be moving westward, in the direction of Israel. The wise men noted when the star first appeared, packed up some supplies and gifts, and headed west without knowing their final destination. They upset Herod “and all of Jerusalem” when they told why they had come. Scripture suggested the child had been born in Bethlehem. The Magi left Jerusalem, following the star until it “stopped” over a house. They went into the house where they presented their gifts to Mary and the baby.
None of that actually explains what the Magi saw or why they believed it heralded the birth of Israel’s new king. It could be a planetary alignment, but could a planetary alignment appear to move westward? Maybe.
We are left with lots and lots of supposition, and little clarity about those visitors from the East.
But here’s what we can know.
God got their attention by placing something unusual where they couldn’t help but see it. God enticed them to leave the comfort of their homes and travel to meet Jesus—and bring gifts fit for a king. God led them to Jesus.
Do their titles or life situation matter? No. Does their place of departure matter? No. Does it matter how far they traveled? No. Does it matter how many of them came to see Jesus? No. Does it matter what God used to draw them to Jesus? No.
The same is true today. Regardless of our location, title, group, gifts, distance, or station in life, God calls us in ways we understand, and then leads us gently to meet Jesus.
And the only gift the King wants is us.
If you’re interested, here are a couple of articles about the Magi:
* What the Magi Had in Common with Scientists:
Were the Magi from Persia?