The Common Good

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

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.

Related Reading

Take Action on This Issue

Circle of Protection for a Moral Budget

A pledge by church leaders from diverse theological and political beliefs who have come together to form a Circle of Protection around programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world.

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

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories


Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)