As the calendar pages flip through the passing centuries, the misnomers of Christmas have continued to grow.
The misinformation of the first Christmas grew from tradition and experienced a growth spurt during the 20th century with the increase of media through movies and television.
One error, in particular, is seen in nearly every place that has a manger scene — books, movies, drawings, TV shows, church programs, and decorations in front yards, all portray it wrong.
The wise men never made it to the manger.
Let us recap the story of the wise men.
They come “from the east” (Matthew 2:1). Their original location is not recorded, but the Bible often uses the Euphrates River as the division between east and west. Therefore, many believe the origin of the wise men is no closer than western Iraq and could be as far away as the orient. Regardless, wherever they came from, they probably traveled for weeks, if not months.
The wise men tell King Herod that they “have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him ” (Matthew 2:2). At this point, it does not say they have followed the star, only that they have seen it. They understand that He is the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), so it would only be natural to go to the capital of the Jews — Jerusalem.
King Herod inquires of the priests and scribes where the Christ was to be born. Bethlehem is the answer he receives (Matthew 2:4-6; Micah 5:2). Herod then sends the wise men to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:8).
The wise men leave King Herod, but on their way to Bethlehem, something happens; the star appears once again, and now is when the wise men follow the star. Matthew 2:9, “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”
Matthew 2:11 tells us the wise men went into a house to see the child, not a manger, “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
Here is where Biblical wording becomes essential. The Bible refers to infants as babes, usually from birth until they begin to walk or toddlerhood. A child or children in the Bible is from walking age to puberty; therefore, a “young child” would be someone of toddler age.
In the story of the manger (Luke 2:1-20), the Scriptures use the word “babe.” However, in Matthew 2:9-21, the story of the wise men, the term “young child” is used every time, six times in total. The Greek word translated “young child” in Matthew is paidion; the Greek word used in Luke 2 is brephos; translated “babe.” The Bible is making a differentiation between the Babe in the manger and the toddler in the house.
So what is the timing of the star?
In an attempt to thwart a future uprising by the Jews, Herod uses the timing of the star provided to him by the wise men to determine the age of the children he should kill to get rid of the King of the Jews. Matthew 2:16, “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.”
The star probably appeared when Christ was born. The wise men seeing the star, start their trek toward Jerusalem. Upon their arrival, they are sent to Bethlehem by King Herod. On the way to Bethlehem, the star reappears, and they follow it to the young child in a house (most likely in Nazareth).
Herod kills all the male children from two years old and younger. He probably gave himself some extra time to make sure he kills the Child King; therefore, the wise men may have first seen the star about a year before their arrival in Jerusalem.
If the wise men, with their caravan of supplies and servants, travel an average of 20 miles a day, it would take roughly 270 days, about nine months to go from modern-day Beijing, China to Jerusalem. Also, they would need some time to organize the trip, gathering supplies, choosing the animals, and who to accompany them.
In the grand scheme of things, it will not matter if you include the wise men in your nativity. Our focus needs to be on the Babe, the child, and the man Jesus Christ. He was born so He may perform His purpose as the Lamb of God and shed His blood for our sins. The Babe in the manger, the Child in the house, and the Man on the cross are the Lamb. Where else but a manger should a Lamb be born?