Much of the opposition that we read about public displays of Christmas is petty.
It is both instructive and consoling, therefore, to remember that Christmas is a great and divine blessing, and one that will never be banished from the world. In this regard, it is edifying to reread Numbers 22-24 where we find the earliest confrontation between Christmas and anti-Christmas, in this case between Balak, King of Moab, and the oracle, Balaam.
was deeply distressed when he observed the immense numbers of Israelites who
had come from
“Look how this people coming from
Balaam, however, delivered a poem in which he not only refrained from cursing the Israelites, but pronounced a blessing on them. Three times Balak demanded a curse; three times Balaam delivered a blessing. Balaam’s third poetic blessing is of special interest, for here, he prophesied the appearance of a star proclaiming the advent, in Israel, of a king: I see him — but not in the present, I behold him — but not close at hand: “A star from Jacob takes the leadership, A scepter arises from Israel.”
The frustrated Balak had heard enough, and discharged his uncooperative servant. Long before Christmas, a worldly and envious king tried to prevent its arrival. King Herod, as we know, sought in vain to destroy Christmas shortly after the Nativity.
In the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12, we read about “wise men from the East” who were led by a star to the very house where the Christ Child was, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Shortly thereafter, they were warned in a dream of Herod’s threats to the new baby, and told to return to their homeland by a different route.
Did the “wise men,” or Magi (the Greek expression in Matthew), know about Balaam’s prophecy? Certainly, the Jews knew about it and the rabbis understood that the star would herald the arrival of the Messiah. They were also familiar with Isaiah 60:30: “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
If they, came from
According to the ancient Greek historian Strabo, magi were sages and wise men, “zealous observers of justice and virtue,” and eager investigators of heavenly phenomena. The term “astrologer” was often employed as a synonym for “magi.” Christian tradition settled on three Magi on the simple basis that there were three gifts.
The blessing of Christmas was prophesied by Balaam and, later, Isaiah. It was opposed by Balak and then Herod. The Magi, indeed, seem to be knowledgeable and wise, for they acted in a way, if not cognizant of the prophecies, then at least consistent with them. They were also humble and reverent, for when they found the child with Mary his mother, “falling on their knees they adored him” (Matthew 2: 9-10).
Christmas may be a point of controversy for some people. But if we take a broader historical view, one that includes the fourth book of the Pentateuch, we will understand that Christmas offers us a blessing that is inexhaustible and a light that is inextinguishable.