(5) The First Two Years
Lots of manger scenes (and Christmas carols) include three kings. Before reading this study, what do you believe about the wise men? Read Matthew 2:1-16
1. Let’s look at the men first:
a. Are they wise men, astrologers, or kings? How many are there of them? And why does tradition say 3?
b. If the men are astrologers, they’re probably Babylonian. Why might they be interested in Judaism?
c. Do they find the baby in a stable?
d. Does it worry you that there might be differences between interpretation, tradition and what the Bible says? How would you try to resolve these differences?
2. Now let’s look at the star:
a. Why did the wise men go West when they saw a star in the East?
i. Some people say that’s okay because the star moved (verse 9).
ii. Others point out that the words translated “in the East” can also be translated “as it arose” (like the sun rising in the East).
iii. Others say the words refer to a star that’s only visible briefly just before the sun rises. Do you have a problem with any of these explanations?
b. Did the star guide the direction the wise men traveled, or did it tell them when to travel?
c. What explanations have you heard for the star? If someone were to discover a definitive answer, would that enhance or inhibit faith? Here are some reasonably familiar conjectures:
i. It’s a shooting star (because it moved). But it also stayed still.
ii. It’s a planetary conjunction (because it didn’t move). These happen about every 140 years and result in very bright stars, of significance to ancient astronomers. In 6BC there would be been conjunctions in May (time for the wise men to set off West), September (time to arrive at Herod’s palace) and December (time to visit Bethlehem). These wouldn’t have all been in the same part of the sky. (Why are they delighted in v10?)
iii. It’s a supernova. One is mentioned in Chinese records occurring around 5BC, but if it was really so bright, why wasn’t Herod’s court aware of it? (A well-known author wrote a science fiction story where a spaceman finds the distant civilization destroyed by the Bethlehem supernova. In his story, the spaceman loses his faith.)
iv. It’s Halley’s Comet (because it points, like a comet with a tail), but that would date Christ’s birth at around 12BC. Another comet would have been visible around 5BC, but wouldn’t have been very spectacular or rare, suggesting Babylonian astrologers wouldn’t have been very interested.
d. The wise men stop at Herod’s palace. Why? Does this scene remind you of any Old Testament scenes?
e. What kind of position did priests and scribes hold at Herod’s court? What scriptures are they searching? Read Micah 5:2. What kind of position might the wise men have held in their home countries?
f. How long might the wise men have taken to reach Jerusalem?
g. Why does Herod kill two-year-olds?
3. Now we get to the “stable scene.” How old do you suppose Jesus was at this point? And was he still in a stable?
Were there any surprises for you in rereading the Christmas story? If the Christmas story covers two years instead of one night, will that change how we imagine the events? Have you ever tried imagining Jesus as a two-year-old?