The following is an excerpt taken from Dwight Longnecker’s newest release, Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men.
It’s the night of the Christmas play, and everyone has arrived in his holiday best. The parents and teachers have set out cookies and festive punch. The children are in their costumes backstage, breathless with excitement. The fifth-graders, in bathrobes, are shepherds, their heads covered with towels tied round with cord, while the second-graders are angels this year—gowns made up quickly from old sheets, tinsel halos, and glitter-sprinkled cardboard wings strapped to their backs.
The kindergarten kids are wearing donkey ears, and the firstgraders are Victorian carolers. Mary is pretty in blue, and sixth-grade Joseph looks solemn in his over-the-ears beard. He’s nervous because he has to put his arm around Mary, and the other boys are going to laugh at him.
Behind them, ready to follow the star to Bethlehem, are the three wise sixth-graders, resplendent in purple, scarlet, and gold satin robes. One boy is from a Syrian refugee family. Another is from India. The third is African American. Wearing a turban and crown, each one carries an ornate little casket. One with gold. One with frankincense. One with myrrh.
We can all visualize the scene. It’s part of the magic of Christmas, along with a whole collection of enchanting traditions that have accumulated over centuries. The school Christmas play, the Nativity scene, Christmas cards, carols by candlelight, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the tree, the gifts, the feasts, and family visits.
In the midst of secular Christmas, with Frosty the Snowman and Santa, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Bing Crosby dreaming of a white Christmas, we want the wonderful story of the Christ child born in a stable, heralded by angels, honored by shepherds, and worshipped by kings who followed a star. Even the most hardened cynics want to keep Christmas. Despite the rise of casual unbelief, most of us want to hand the family Nativity set on to our children. Hypocrites and agnostics, we still gather for church at that one time each year. It may be far from our everyday lives, and we may not really believe, but many of us want to believe.
Even if we don’t, we want to hear again the story of the innocent mother and the faithful father. Even if we have doubts, we want to hear about the angels singing to the shepherds and the sweet old story of the wise men who were enchanted by a miraculous star.
But is there any truth to it all?
Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic priest, award winning blogger, and freelance writer. A graduate of Oxford and Bob Jones University, he has written sixteen books on different aspects of religion. Longenecker is a highly sought-after speaker for scholarly and Men’s Conference events, and often leads parish missions, retreats, and diocesan events. He and his wife, Allison, have four children.