The Magi In The Living Room
This Christmas season, The Three Kings stand out to me. Unlike most nativity scenes we have, the Wise Men didn’t see Christ at the same time as the shepherds, in the cave full of animals, which was the only quiet place to be found in a house packed full of relatives.
“The possibility of Joseph’s kin living in Bethlehem may, in fact, explain the meaning of the word ‘inn’… Traditional pictures of the Nativity portray the young couple arriving in a strange town, where they cannot find accommodations ‘because there was no room in the inn’ (Luke 2:7).
“But the word “inn” (Greek ‘katalyama‘) can also mean ‘guest room’. This is how Luke uses it in 22:11, referring to the upper room where Jesus and His disciples hold their last supper. Instead of a traditional idea of an inn, complete with a gruff innkeeper shouting, ‘No room!’ to the couple, Joseph might have been staying in his own family home or the home of a relative. However, because there were so many relatives visiting for the tax season, he may not have been able to find a private room where his wife could give birth.”
-Eric D. Hunstman, December 2010 Ensign
I don’t blame Joseph and Mary at all–I wouldn’t want to try giving birth where lots of other people are trying to sleep, trying to have a meal, trying to relax after a day of hard travel. I also wouldn’t want to try to give birth when lots of relatives want to chat and catch up.
But as I said, the Wise Men stand out to me this Christmas season. They followed the star to Bethlehem, and then inquired about the event and found Mary and Joseph’s house in Nazareth. But they were sent as spies for the King who jumped to conclusions and thought that the royalty born under the star would usurp his throne. They found the baby at home, gurgling away as Mary did the dishes, or maybe toddling around the living room while she hastily tidied up for unexpected visitors.
Maybe they sat in a living room strewn with wooden toys and food bits. And maybe the Wise Men watched Joseph play with Jesus (which was a common name in the area because everyone wanted their kid to be The Chosen One) after he’d come home from the woodshop. And the Holy Spirit manifested to their hearts that this happy child had a great and terrible destiny. So they presented the gifts they had tucked into their robes, just in case he really wasn’t The One.
Why gold? Why not three jewels or something else? Well, Bobby Boggess, my high school mentor and teacher, taught that the gold came in the form of two gold coins. The Greeks believed that when you die, you have to cross the river Styx to get to the afterlife, and to cross the river, you have to take a boat. The only boat available belongs to a boatman, and he must be paid two gold coins.
The Greek story got transferred to the Egyptians; they might have had separate mythologies, but they weren’t totally isolated societies. So the Egyptians, when they mummified their royalty, put a gold coin on each of the corpse’s eyes. They also used myrrh as an embalming fluid and tucked frankincense underneath the wrappings to make the royalty smell good for eternity.
The gifts from three kings to another king acknowledged the King’s purpose. They knew He was not meant to usurp any throne, but to die. And they knew that he should be buried like royalty.
They also knew that Joseph and Mary were normal, everyday people and that they deserved to have material riches to match the non-material treasure that was living in their household. So Mary tucked the gifts away where baby hands couldn’t get to them; she knew they could be sold for lots of money, even if she wasn’t as learned as the men who just sat in her living room.
Maybe she showed them to Luke when he came to interview her for this article he was writing. I’m sure the monetary insurance was comforting, even if having strangers in your living room felt…strange.
And the wise men? When they stepped out of Joseph’s front door, they knew they couldn’t deliver death from Herod, even if he did claim he wanted to worship the baby. So they went home, to whatever lands they were from. And with them went three separate testimonies of Jesus Christ.