Why I Put the Magi at the Manger
Some Christmas traditions are non-biblical. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily un-biblical or contrary to fact. It’s just that they involve conjecture in areas where the Bible is silent.
For example, we don’t know how Mary traveled to Bethlehem, but it only makes sense a pregnant woman would not walk the entire distance. So the donkey story works. A wagon might have been better under the circumstances, but it could very well have been a donkey.
Then there is the pesky topic of the Magi. Most manger scenes place them there with the shepherds on the night Jesus was born, but the prevailing theory is that they came later. Why? For at least two reasons.
When the Magi arrived at Herod’s palace, he inquired as to the circumstances that led them there to see the One who was to be born King of the Jews. They told him they had followed the star from the east, and it was the timing of the appearance of the star that led Herod to kill baby boys in Bethlehem that were two years of age and younger. It is easy to see why this would point to a late arrival by the Magi.
Secondly, when the Magi found Jesus He was in a house, not a stable. It is thought Mary and Joseph transitioned to something more permanent as they waited for God to tell them what to do next.
These reasons, and the fact a word commonly used for an older child was used in the Magi reference, certainly suggests the visit came later.
But then again…
It is true Herod determined the scope of his murderous scheme by considering the appearance of the star. But we must remember Herod was a nut! It would not be beyond him to use a two-year time frame, just to satisfy his paranoia and make absolutely sure he exterminated Jesus. We also don’t know if Herod or the Magi had any idea how old Jesus was at the time they stopped at the palace, or what the exact relationship was between the star and Jesus’ birth. Could the star have appeared a considerable amount of time before the birth of Jesus to bring the Magi there at the time of his birth?
There is also evidence to support the first century practice of attaching rooms to houses where animals were sheltered. The Bible only says Jesus was in a manger. It doesn’t say He was in a stable. If Joseph’s relatives lived in Bethlehem, it is possible a distant cousin opened his home to Mary and prepared a place in the room where animals were normally kept. Perhaps this is the same “house” where the Magi found Jesus. I will add that it is necessary to make the additional non-biblical presumption that Joseph set up a carpenter shop in Bethlehem to sustain his family for two years. They could not have used the gifts from the Magi for income, if indeed they did not come when Jesus was born.
All of this means it is possible the Magi joined with the shepherds in their worship, but that none of them were standing in a stable.
This brings me to the main reason I put the Magi at the manger in my manger scene at home: The figurines belong to me and I can put them wherever I want!
Just kidding! (Although, this is true)
I put them there because it doesn’t violate a specific scriptural fact and because I like to think of everyone who saw the baby Jesus worshipping Him at once.
I wish I had been there!
So put your Magi wherever you want. Just don’t lose sight of the splendor of that night. What a night it was!
If you don’t believe me, just ask the Little Drummer Boy.
Now that one is a stretch!
Merry Christmas. And “pa rum pum pum pum….”