I wonder how many people have thought about why there is a black man in their nativity scenes.
He is one of the wise men. But why is there a black wise man? The Bible never said there was a black wise man.
We can wait for another time to discuss why the “wise men” are at the manger. After all, they didn’t find Baby Jesus in a manger. They found Jesus as a young child in a house. (Matthew 2:11) After all, it takes some time to ride a camel more than 1,500 miles.
They cast the rebellious storm trooper in “The Force Awakens” as a black man and now there is a black man in the nativity scene. Is this just more liberal political correctness run amok?
Fortunately, no one from either party will have to modify their manger scenes. The black man is from Ethiopia. The Bible doesn’t tell us one of the three wise men was from Ethiopia – in fact, only part Ethiopia is “east” of Jerusalem. Perhaps the wise men crossed over the Red Sea and came into Jerusalem from the east.
The Bible also doesn’t tell us that there were three wise men. There were wise men. The tradition that there are three of them is interpolated data because they brought three gifts.
You never have two members of the family bring mashed potatoes to Christmas dinner so you wouldn’t need more than one wise man to bring gold. Am I right?
The tradition that one of the wise men came from Ethiopia was based on the gifts that were given to the Christ child.
Ethiopia is one of the few regions in the world where frankincense is harvested. Somalia is the best source of Frankincense in the world. Ethiopia and other African countries are also home to the trees whose bark is stripped exposing the “tears” of sap that harden into the fragrant mineral that has been part of religious ceremonies since Moses’ time.
The tradition that Sheba was a kingdom that encompassed parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Yemen plays a big part in believing the wise man was from Ethiopia. There are even Biblical references to the quality of the frankincense from Sheba. That’s why many people who studied the Biblical nativity story reasoned that one of the men could have been a black man who brought frankincense from modern day Ethiopia. The black wise man became a part of folklore in the 1400s.
But why did they give the Christ child those three gifts? Gold is obvious. It shows value and has royal connotations. Myrrh is an anointing oil often used in treating dead bodies – apparent foreshadowing to the Jesus’ earthly calling. Frankincense was an incense used by priests in different sacrifices in the temple.
Frankincense still has a part in religious ceremonies that include burning of incense. It is also part of everyday life in Ethiopia. During my travels in Addis Ababa when we were adopting Dawit, you could smell the frankincense as soon as the plane landed. Shopkeepers burn it all day. Several of our souvenirs still hold the scent of frankincense today.
It is burned on the same fires that are used to pop popcorn and roast coffee beans during coffee ceremonies. You can buy it in many stores. We brought back a bag of it on our second trip.
It was a lot easier for us to get a bag of frankincense from Ethiopia back to America than it would have been for one of the wise men to get it from Sheba to Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago.
The wise men weren’t a big part of the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth. Beyond the shepherds who the angels told of the messiah’s birth, they were among the first to note who Jesus was.
Because of that, they gained extra importance.