BACKGROUND NOTES (& OTHER NEAT INFO):
• The book of Matthew doesn’t specify the number of wise men. It does however spell out three gifts.
• The wise men were probably not kings.
• They didn’t visit baby Jesus in the manger with the shepherds (v.11: They went into the house, and when they
saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshiped him. GNB)
• Epiphany: means manifestation, appearance or “showing forth.” The day of Epiphany itself, which western
Christians celebrate on January 6th, is the day that commemorates the visit of the wise men.
• Magi means “wise men.” (According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 1998: member[s] of the priestly caste
of ancient Persia.) It is important to note that the wise men were not Jews. In seeking Jesus and worshiping him, we are reminded
that the kind of dominion foretold by the Jews of the coming of a prince of peace was a message that had broad appeal.
• Footnotes here in the NOAB/NRSV are even more specific. "Wise men (Gk magoi) literate, political officials in the
courts of Parthia, Armenia or regions east of Judea. Foreign regimes often sent emissaries to greet and give gifts to new
kings or rulers. The visit highlights the conflict between the king of Israel chosen by God, Jesus and the king of Israel
chosed by the Romans, Herod."
• The magi were learned men. Even though they weren’t Jewish they knew Old Testament prophecy.
• A prophecy is a prediction of a future event. For instance, this reference is found in the writings of the prophet
Micah, “But as for you, Bethlehem, . . . from you one will go forth for me to be ruler of Israel.” (Micah 5:2)
The Israelites had been holding onto God’s promise through many many generations. They were watching and waiting in
anticipation of the arrival of their king.
Gold: quality gift befitting a king.
Frankincense: incense used in the temple (burned to honor God), distilled from tree sap.
Myrrh: also an aromatic tree sap, used to prepare a body for burial.
The story of the magi is only found in Matthew’s gospel.
FRYE ON THE NATIVITY STORY.
I adore the closing paragraph of the essay/lecture by Canadian writer and scholar Northrop Frye called, "A Leap in the Dark"
found in Frye on Religion (Toronto: U of T Press, 2000), p. 305. And I see that I haven't used it in any of my Christmas
units. It totally captures the feeling of hope that may have driven the magi to see the child of prophecy. And it's one bit
of craftsmanship that shows Frye at his writerly best. Please read on and accept the sharing of this quotation as a pre- (or
post-) Christmas present:
"When I was watching the moon expeditions of 1969, it seemed to me that the greatest moment was not the actual landing on
the moon, but previously, two expeditions before that, when the crew went round to the dark side of the moon, and what they
called the "good earth" disappeared from view. At that point they began reciting the Christian hymn with which the book of
Genesis opens. They were the first men who were unable to see the earth from which they had sprung, and in reciting this hymn
they established the principle that the real giant step for mankind must be taken on earth. The really significant events
of human life are hidden from view when they occur. Egyptian history knows nothing of any Exodus; Roman history knows nothing
of the birth of Christ; 1971 knows nothing of whatever spiritual reality is taking shape now. It is not difficult to see the
destroying angel of the Book of Wisdom's vision [Frye opens this lecture with a quote from the book of Wisdom], what with
war in the Near East, war in the Middle East, war in the Far East, America, the champion of democracy, losing its leadership,
our own country threatened with collapse. There is nothing new in such forebodings of disaster; they have been essentially
the picture the world has presented for the last four or five thousand years, long before the time of Christ. But there is
still a difference between seeing only that and seeing in it the eclipsing shadow of a power that is still fighting for us.
It is the latter vision that turns the darkness of Advent into a festival of blazing lights, the lights which are the glory
of a God who is also a Man, who is continually born and continually dying, and yet remains unborn and beyond the reach of
MAGI IN THE ARTS
A huge amount of work has been dedicated to this story, especially in fine art, dating from at least the early middle ages.
You will find literally pages of visual art on the magi at Biblical art on the www .
Here is just one of my favourites -- a Durer woodcut.
Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn has a song that turns on the magi -- "Cry of a tiny babe,'from Nothing but a
burning light. You will have to look up an audio sample on a service such as Limewire. For now, here's a sample of the
The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything
'Cause the governing body of the whole [Holy] land
Is that of Herod, a paranoid man
Who when he hears there's a baby born King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two
But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and get away clean
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe
For complete lyrics, click here.
But Cockburn's song is for adult edification rather than for kids. However another contemporary artist with a great magi song
more appropriate for kids is Steve Earle. The piece is "Nothing but a child" from Copperhead Road. You can download
this from iTunes. Or if you live in the US, hear a free sample on Rhapsody.com. Here are the first verses and chorus:
Once upon a time in a far off land
Wise men saw a sign and set out aross the sand
Songs of praise to sing, they travelled day and night
Precious gifts to bring, guided by the light
They chased a brand new star, ever towards the west
Across the mountains far, but when it came to rest
They scarce believed their eyes, they'd come so many miles
And the miracle they prized was nothing but a child
Nothing but a child could wash these tears away
Or guide a weary world into the light of day
And nothing but a child could help erase these miles
So once again we all can be children for awhile.
Some may well argue that Cockburn is a contemporary troubadour. However one would be remiss not to make reference to TS Eliot's
well-known poem on this subject, "Journey of the Magi." Here is the opening verse:
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
For full text of this poem online, click here.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Sometimes we must choose to obey God rather than seek the approval of others. What are some examples of when this might
occur in everyday life?
2. Finding Jesus, or making choices that have more in common with Christian values than other choices, may mean that your
life will have to take a different direction. Has something like this ever happened to you or someone you know?
3. The message that God’s love belongs to everyone is strongly emphasized in this story of visitors from a foreign land
bringing gifts fit for a king. Can you think of story from community news, provincial, national or international affairs that
bears out this message?
Please find below suggested workshops for this unit. For each one, when you are in real time with the children:
1. Quickly review or recap the story with them before starting activity. Each week, see how much more detail each group of
kids can supply on the story they've been studying.
2. Link or explain your activity to the current story.
ACTIVITY: Make scented sachet packets. Will remind the children that perfume was one of the gifts the wise men travelled so
far to bring.
• cloth rectangles, approx 6 x 12 inches.
• pinking shears
• 18 inch lengths of ribbon, yarn with metallic fibre or multicolour yarn (something to tie up a package fit for a king!)
• cinnamon sticks and whole cloves
• glue gun.
Have the kids select a length of cloth, and pink the edges if they wish. Fold strips in half long-ways to form a small rectangular
bag. Glue gun the 2 pinked edges. Leave the top open. Put a dozen cloves and 2 or 3 cinnamon sticks in each bag. (If you break
up the sticks, the scent is stronger.) Tie the yarn or ribbon around the neck of the bag about 1 inch from the top. Kids can
further embellish by gluing on sequins, lace, more ribbon, etc.
ACTIVITY: Journey of the Magi game. Will establish in the children's minds that the long journey these foreigners took to
show respect to the new king took time, care and effort.
• poster board
• colouring markers
• recipe cards
• figures to serve as players' pieces. (These can be something like buttons, or even figures drawn on wide craft sticks
stuck into plasticine stands.)
• a die (or 1 dice).
Make your own Journey of the Magi game board using a large piece of poster board. Draw a simple 2-sided path using a circular,
hourglass or figure 8 shape. Intersect with lines for squares at approx 1 inch intervals.
Make game cards by writing new moves on the index cards. Here's a simple list of moves that could be written on 12 cards:
• FORGET TO BRING GIFTS. RETURN TO PERSIA AND MISS A TURN.
• YOU HAVE A FAST CAMEL THAT MAKES GOOD TIME. MOVE AHEAD 4 SQUARES.
• SAND STORM BLOCKS VIEW OF STAR YOU ARE FOLLOWING. MOVE BACK 1.
• SUPER HOT DAY IN THE DESERT. CAMELS NEED MORE WATER. GO TO NEAREST OASIS AND MOVE BACK 2.
• CLEAR SKIES FOR SEVERAL NIGHTS, GOOD VISIBILITY FOR FOLLOWING YOUR STAR. MOVE AHEAD 3.
• HEROD'S MESSENGERS ASK YOU TO PAY A VISIT. DETOUR TO HEROD'S PLACE. MOVE BACK 4.
•GOOD NEWS. HEROD WANTS TO SEE BABY TOO. LETS YOU GO ON YOUR WAY. MOVE AHEAD 2.
• CAMELS NEED REST AFTER DETOUR. MOVE BACK 2.
• STAR SEEMS TO STAND STILL OVER CERTAIN STABLE. MOVE AHEAD 5.
• YOU FIND BABY, MOTHER AND FATHER IN HOUSE. STOP FOR A MINUTE AND GIVE YOUR GIFTS.
• YOU ARE WARNED IN A DREAM THAT HEROD ISN'T SUCH A NICE GUY AFTER ALL. TAKE SECRET ROUTE OUT OF TOWN WITHOUT GOING
BACK TO TELL HEROD ANYTHING. MOVE AHEAD 5.
• PRINCE OF PEACE BRINGS GOOD NEWS FOR ALL. GO TO FINISH AND TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS.
To play this game, start pieces at start and roll to next spot, picking up index card with each roll. First player across
finish line wins.
You may have to make up 2 sets of gameboards depending on the number of children you expect in your class.
ACTIVITY: Develop your own skit with contemporary situations based on the story, "The Other Wise Man," by Henry Van Dyke.
MATERIAL: book, "The Other Wise Man." (It looks like you can download this story free from various sources online. Do a Google
search to find out more.) Costume box.
We have created a little slideshow for young children to illustrate the story of The Other Wise Man. Original art by Susannah
McKenzie-Sutter, 10. Short and slightly longer scripts adapted from Van Dyke's book by LD McKenzie. Click here for the Other Wise Man Slideshow with links to the scripts.***
WHAT TO DO:
Read this story to the group. In it, a fourth wise man keeps getting side tracked (for years) while on his way to visit
the Christ child by stopping to help others. Which is what Jesus would have wanted him to do anyway, so the idea is he's the
only magi who got the see the real face of Christ.
As a group, brainstorm scenarios where you might have to stop and help someone while on your way to an important social function
of some kind.
Then act out the basic plot.
You can assign one player to be the 4th wise man. Or you can take turns with a new protagonist for each scene, since we are
all supposed to see ourselves as that 4th wise man anyway.
Consider videotaping your finished play and showing it to other classes at a later date. It could also form the feature of
a future Movie Workshop.
*****THIS JUST IN -- We have managed to upload a compressed video file of the movie the kids made in our drama lab. We shot
footage using the built-in camera on my laptop, and edited the movie together using iMovie on a Macintosh. Holly, 12, did
all the post-production. She even added bloopers at the end. Extremely cool! Click here to see our movie version of The Other Wise Man. ******
ACTIVITY: Make 'Rising Star Cookies.' These white chocolate chip cookies will remind the children how the bright star that
the magi followed was like a beacon against the darkness of night.
(These cookies, which appeared in our Nicodemus unit as Nic's Night sky cookies, are back by special request of one of my
daughters. Never sniff at valuable children's input, I always say!)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating well with each addition. Combine the cocoa, flour, and baking soda, gradually stir into the creamed mixture. Finally,
fold in white chocolate chips. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until puffy but still soft. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes
before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
You can highlight the Christmas star link here by using mini white chips in the batter, then pressing larger white chips into
a star shape on top of a large cookie. Or you could press a large white chocolate wafer into the centre of each cookie, to
represent the dominant Christmas star.
ACTIVITY: Magi section from Fluffy the Christmas Sheep, by Sunday software. Or birthday card from the Magi. Will reinforce
key elements of the story.
• Fluffy the Christmas sheep program
• Other basic art program or wp program with clipart.
WHAT TO DO:
There's lots of good stuff on Fluffy. Fluffimations or DJ Fluffy Jam. Expand your horizons and go to the section on the prophets
on this program -- the magi knew their prophets.
If you don't have Fluffy, the kids can make birthday cards from the magi to baby Jesus or gift tags for their presents.
QUICK SUMMARY -- ACTIVITIES FROM MAGI 1
• Arts - Make and decorate treasure boxes.
• Kitchen - Make star shaped ginger bread cookies
• Drama - Act out scenes from The Bearer of Gifts, by Kenneth Steven.
• Computer - Go to visit of the magi section on Life of Christ CD. Activities from Fluffy.