Monday, December 30, 2013
When I was little I was fascinated by our Nativity set. I was allowed to play with it and move the figures around. I was bothered when I noticed that in the homes of my Protestant relatives and friends, if they had a Nativity set, there were no magi, only shepherds. It was difficult in an ordinary store to find anything different. I wondered why.
Last year in an article in Commonweal by Robert Kiely called "A Long Journey: Imagining the Magi," he quotes a sermon of Martin Luther that may be the source of such reluctance. Commenting on the word "homage," Luther said, "They honored him as a king. Nor was the worship like that done to God because, in my opinion, they did not recognize him as God." Luther cautioned against speculating on further details about the magi's visit, "What conversation they had with Mary and Joseph I leave to the imagination of idle minds."
The Greek verb that is translated "paid him homage" does refer to the homage paid to someone of dignity or of authority, but it is used also to mean adoration or worship paid to a deity. Most of the time that it is used in the New Testament it refers to worship.
Robert Kiely says that fortunately many artists before and after Luther were fascinated enough by the visit of the magi to produce some glorious paintings of the adoration of the Christ Child. And now any Nativity scene you see includes the magi.