I’ve always been skeptical about the biblical story of that first Christmas in Bethlehem; before you burn me at the stake read on. My doubt has nothing to do with the concept of a virgin birth. Indeed, I know many a teenage girl who has used this explanation for their ‘condition’ – unfortunately for them the consensus was that a more earthly congress had taken place. Rather what beggars belief is that there were three wise men. I don’t doubt there are three wise men somewhere. Indeed, in an infinite universe all possibilities must eventuate, however unlikely it may seem. But the chance of finding three in the one place at the one time does seem unlikely; an event akin to winning the lottery three times, or finding three pens in your house that work. These are all theoretically possible, but you just know it’s not going to happen.
The other explanation is that while there were three men hanging about – a common occurrence – they weren’t wise. After all two thirds of their gifts (frankincense and myrrh) are ingredients for incense – hardly an appropriate gift for a baby. Although perhaps they wanted to mask the agrarian smells from the stable. On the other hand they did bring gold, which in those uncertain times would have been a hedge against inflation, a weakening shekel and a stock market disaster – that would have been wise. Assuming they could carry a gold ingot (12.4kg) they would have gifted a tidy nest egg to the future king. In today’s money that’s about $520,263.33, which is enough to buy 50, 324 goats, 40 hectares near Jerusalem, or a tiny bed-sit in the city.
What would three wise women have brought? Remember that Bethlehem was bulging at the seams that night with visitors who had come to register for the census of Caesar Augustus. The chances are that every woman was doing then what they’re doing today at Christmas: catering for households full of people. They wouldn’t have had time to go blundering around Judea in the dark following yonder star. However if they had of popped out between making meals and doing dishes I imagine they’d have done something practical for the new family. Perhaps a swaddling cloth for the baby, lanolin for Mary’s cracked nipples, and for Joseph, a sound telling off for not booking ahead at Christmas time. That’s what I call wise.