“The magi didn’t give me any gifts,” declares jesus christ
RACHEL Emisoras Latinas now continues its broadcasts from Bethlehem, a city overflowing with pilgrims. We are with Jesus Christ, our special guest, who has returned to earth after so many years away. Once again we welcome you.
JESUS Thanks, Rachel. Shalom! Peace be with you!
RACHEL Now, tell us, Jesus, have you had time to get to know this city a little and to talk with some of the people here?
JESUS Yes, of course. I became friendly with a family that lives just over there, near the market… They told me about their problems…
RACHEL Did they recognize you?
JESUS No, they saw me as just another guy, just like one of them. That way there’s more confidence.
RACHEL You told us in our earlier interview that you were not born in Bethlehem, nor were you born on December 25th. Is that right?
JESUS That’s right. I was born in Nazareth, like all my family, like my brothers and sisters.
RACHEL We’ll talk later about your brothers and sisters. Right now I want to discuss the angels.
JESUS The angels?
RACHEL The angels who sang “Glory to God in the highest” here in Bethlehem, or in Nazareth, or someplace in heaven….
JESUS Those angels must have been the hands of those midwives who helped my mother give birth…
RACHEL But were there angels singing or not on the day of your birth?
JESUS The thing is, you people take everything so literally, down to the last letter. For my people an angel is … good news, the messenger who bring good news.
RACHEL You mean it doesn’t have little wings or…?
JESUS Neither wings nor feathers. As I told you, the real angels for women giving birth are the midwives. They’re the ones who give them the good news that the child has been born healthy.
RACHEL And the three kings? What about them?
JESUS What kings?
RACHEL Well, Matthew, the other evangelist, wrote that when you were born, three magi came from the east, guided by a star, with gifts for you.
JESUS Rachel, it seems that Matthew also liked to dress things up, just like that fellow Luke. It would seem to me that he borrowed those magi from … let me think … yes, from the prophet Isaiah.
RACHEL How do you mean, he borrowed them?
JESUS Clearly, Matthew must have been recalling a text that our great prophet wrote about some kings who arrive from the east on camels, with gifts of gold and incense. They told me that story when I was a child … and I liked it.
RACHEL So, … no kings arrived when you were born, and they didn’t bring you any gifts?
JESUS Believe me, around Nazareth, when I was born, no one ever saw the crown of any king.
RACHEL What about the star? Don’t they say that a great comet appeared that year?
JESUS Comet? If my neighbors had seen a comet, they’d have run for their lives! People used to say that comets brought bad luck.
RACHEL Our listening audience must really be amazed, Mr Jesus Christ, … you want to take away even the star of Bethlehem.
JESUS No doubt Matthew mentioned the star in order to declare that God’s light shines over all people, in the east and in the west, and that in God’s Kingdom nobody is a foreigner.
RACHEL So there was nothing at all extraordinary? No star, no angels, no kings? At least the part about the mule and ox is true, isn’t it?
JESUS The mule and the ox! … Now we’re getting more down to earth, closer to the country parts where I was born… Do you want me to tell you how my mother Mary gave birth, how the women of the country gave birth in my time?
RACHEL Yes, of course. I’m extremely interested. And how about you, dear friends, those of you listening to our exclusive broadcasts? Where did Mary give birth, in a manger? Who helped her, who was at her side in such a decisive moment? Now Jesus Christ himself is going to tell us about it. Don’t miss our next broadcast. From Bethlehem in Judea, this is Rachel Perez, reporting for Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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A tableau rich in symbolism
As he did in the passage about the Annunciation to Mary, the evangelist Luke included angels in his story of the birth of Jesus. He describes them as singing joyfully in the heavens and announcing peace to all people of good will. The other evangelist of the Nativity, Matthew, was interested in stressing that Jesus’ message was not only for the Jewish people, but for all the peoples of the earth. For that reason, in his version of the story he recounts how certain men came to Bethlehem from the east; they are called “magi” to indicate that they belonged to another religion. For this metaphor he took his inspiration from several prophecies of the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 49,22-23 and 60,3-6. And to complete his beautiful tableau of the Nativity, he included in his story the prophetic star, like the one by which Balaam, a foreigner, announced the arrival of a great king (Numbers 24,15-19).
The angels, the magi and the star are all symbols, beautiful metaphors that illustrate the central message that the evangelists wanted to transmit to the first Christian communities: Jesus comes to carry out a marvelous mission, that of transforming the very limited idea of God that his own people, and all other nations as well, had at that time.
An idea of Francis of Assisi
During December, people in every Christian land set up “mangers” or “nativity scenes” in their houses, churches, offices and public buildings, using little figures that represent Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, as well as the shepherds, the kings and the angels. And of course the star is always there. It is a very old tradition, invented by Saint Francis of Assisi in the 12th century in the Italian city of Greccio. In the middle of the forest Francis built a little house of straw; he put there a mule and an ox, and between them he placed an image of the baby Jesus. At midnight on the 24th of December he invited the Franciscan friars and the neighboring farmers, who came carrying torches and singing hymns. Then they celebrated mass together. This was the beginning of the beautiful tradition of the mangers and the “midnight mass” at Christmas.
A fruitless effort
There have always been authors who have wanted demonstrate historically, rationally and scientifically all the events narrated in the Bible. For example, in order to prove that a spectacular star appeared in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, they speculate about a conjunction of planets that happened in those years and that might have produced the impression of a bright new star shining in the sky.
The Bible contains a great deal of historical data, but it is also replete with literary forms: metaphors, myths, epics true and false, popular tales, legends, oral traditions that grow larger with time, epigrams, collective fantasies, poetry…. When people attempt to apply scientific method to the biblical literature, then science loses, and the Bible loses as well. One of the recent and best-known authors in this lost cause was Werner Keller, a German Jew who became famous in the 1980s with his book, The Bible as History.
There are no pure religions
What is more interesting and instructive is knowing how the religious traditions of other peoples of those times exercised a real influence on biblical texts and on Christian traditions as well. Such influence shows us that, just as there do not exist any genetically “pure races”, so neither are there any “pure religions”. Indeed, the bigotry of racism is quite comparable to the intolerance of religious dogmatism.
The tradition of the magi, for example, was much influenced by the Mithra cult, which was basic to the religion of the Persians (who lived where Iran is today). Even the word “magi” reveals how strong the influence was, because the priests of Mithra were called “mogs”, which in the West gave rise to the word “magi”. What is more, according to ancient tradition the three “magi” who brought Jesus gold, incense and myrrh were called Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar, which are names derived from Manucher, Garshasp and Bastavarai, who were three mythological monarchs of ancient Persia.