They rejoiced like Middle Easterners—noisy and exuberant!

In C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy finds a magical book that tells of a cup, a sword, a tree, and a green hill—the Narnian equivalent to the gospel story. We are told that as the little girl read, “she was living in the story as if it were real, and all the pictures were real too. When she had got to the third page and come to the end, she said, ‘That is the loveliest story I’ve ever read or ever shall read in my whole life. Oh, I wish I could have gone on reading it for ten years.’ ”

That is the way it is with the story of the Incarnation. Though we explore the same short passages year after year, we never tire of hearing the Christmas story. It is the loveliest we shall ever read.

Part of that story, of course, is the adoration of the Magi and the presence of a mysterious star as recorded in Matthew 2:1–11.

The mystery that surrounds the Magi has fueled the imaginations of millions over nearly two thousand Christmases. Not all of these imaginings have been on the mark—the most notable being that the Magi were kings and that they were three in number. The supposition that they were kings comes from an over-reading of Old Testament parallels in Psalm 72:10–11 and Isaiah 60:6, where it speaks of gift-bearing kings bowing down before him. And the idea that there were three comes from the fact that they presented Christ with three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

From these reasonable imaginings, came other “explanations” bordering on or beyond sheer fantasy. In the Western church the Magi were given the names Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar—and several cathedrals claim to have their remains. The great Cathedral of Cologne even supplies this interesting ...

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