We Three Kings of Orient Are (Not in the Bible): An Epiphany Sermon

By Nadia Bolz-Weber 01-07-2011

I have a pastor friend who collects a lot of crèche scenes. He especially likes really bad ones. My favorite is a certain one which has all the regular elements one might expect: Mary the God bearer, Joseph her protector, the shepherds, a donkey, and some sheep, and then, there, kneeling at the side of the Christ child, is a wise man. But not one from the East like in this past Sunday's gospel reading (Matthew 2:1-12), but one from the North, as in the North Pole. In this crèche scene none other than Santa Claus himself kneels at the manger. You'd think that would be enough irony, but no, it gets better. Also in the same manger scene with Santa Claus right next to the sheep and donkey is a pig. Yes, nothing says biblical illiteracy like depicting swine at the birth of our very Jewish Lord. But that's what happens when we are familiar with stories without actually knowing them.

I wonder how well we really know these stories, like the wise men of which are so familiar. For instance, if we asked 100 people the following: Who brought gifts to the Christ child? How many people were there? Where were the people from and where did they bring their gifts to? Inevitably people would respond: Three kings from the Orient brought the baby Jesus gifts in the manger. And, everyone around would likely nod their heads and say, "Yep, that sounds right." Three kings from the Orient bringing gifts to Jesus in a manger makes a charming story, but it's not actually the one we find in the Bible. It's the one we find in the insufferable song "We Three Kings of Orient Are."

A closer reading of the text results in the realization that we have no idea how many kings there were, and we don't know how far east they came from (was it the Orient

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