Today I am going to unpack some Christian oddities. First is the manger scene with shepherds and Magi (or the Wise Men). The shepherds were there the evening of the birth of Christ - the Magi were there some time later. We celebrate the arrival of the Magi on Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th.
Caspar, Balthasar, Melchior, the three kings of Orient riding camels - traditional images that are not found in Matthew 1:1-12, you won't find camels mentioned or for that matter how many Magi - just that there were three gifts.
It is in chapter 60 of Isaiah (Is 60:1-6) where it is predicted that at a time of darkness, the glory of the Lord will shine over Jerusalem. The heavenly light will be a beacon to the pagan nations and even to their kings. Here we find mention of camels whose job it will be to bring the wealth of these nations, including frankincense and gold, to the city of the Lord. Psalm 72 agrees that far-off kings will bring gifts to the Son of David. So what about myrrh?
Myrrh, an aromatic resin, was used in preparing the dead for burial. Gold reveals that the babe in the manger is actually a king; frankincense tells us that is he God incarnate; myrrh tells us that he has come to die. That someone would redeem God’s people through suffering and death was foretold by Isaiah a few chapters earlier (Is. 53). This was the really hard thing for those living in Jesus’ time to comprehend–-that the same person who fulfilled all those prophecies about a glorious new king also fulfilled the prophecies about a suffering servant.
All three gifts of the Magi are necessary to convey the true revelation, the true epiphany of who this child is and what he is destined to do. That’s why for hundreds of years we’ve sung of three kings, not two or four.