Magazine article The Christian Century

Outsiders Bearing Gifts

Magazine article The Christian Century

Outsiders Bearing Gifts

Article excerpt

CHRISTMAS IN THE United States is such a mammoth economic phenomenon that when it comes to a crashing end on December 25 it feels like a total cultural collapse.

Even though we should know better, churches too experience a post-Christmas letdown. Preachers know that the Sunday after Christmas is one of two "low Sundays" in the year, and they often take the day off. I did this for years, sometimes extending the day into a blessed two-Sunday holiday. So it is helpful to be reminded that for many of the world's Christians, Epiphany is the main event--and that in liturgy, song, food, and gift-giving, Christians mark the arrival in Bethlehem of the Magi.

The Magi are by far the most exotic characters in the Christmas story; they have inspired literature, art and music, from O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi" and T. S. Eliot's poem "Journey of the Magi" to traditional Christmas pageants in churches; from Hollywood-like productions with "live flying angels" to the bathrobe dramas immortalized in Barbara Robinson's classic children's story The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Garrison Keillor, with his amazing understanding of the eccentric realities of the American church, writes about the Magi in Life among the Lutherans: "Of all the characters [in the Christmas story], they're the only ones who probably weren't Jewish but rather gentile." Keillor thinks the Magi may have been Lutherans because they brought myrrh, which everyone knows is "a sort of casserole made from hamburger and macaroni." Before they departed on their long journey, says Keillor, the wife of one of the Magi probably said: "Here, take this myrrh. They'll be hungry. And make sure you bring back the dish."

The late William Placher warned against trivializing and sentimentalizing the Magi. Their part of the larger story is significant. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.