I was in a big-chain bookstore the other day -- the one whose name rhymes with "Yarns and Global." They're gearing up for Christmas shopping like everyone else is, and had quite an assortment of Christmas greeting cards for sale.
THIS ONE grabbed my pedantic attention.
Nifty, folksy design. Looks like it incorporated bits of book pages or other typewritten paper into the design, as if the magi were painted over an old, used piece of paper.
Now, theologians and scholars who aren't tired of the subject can kick around the debate about the tradition of "three" wise men, and whether the depicted trio are following the star all the way from the East, or simply from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The more politically-minded can grieve about the fact that all 3 seem to be Anglo-Saxons, despite being stargazers from the Orient. Art critics can discuss the sinister implications of the ransom note-style lettering superimposed beneath the star, or ponder why Mark Rothko seems to have painted the right-hand border of the picture.
Me? It was the words themselves that caught my attention. "Peace on earth, goodwill towards all..."
Plainly a paraphrase of the latter half of Luke 2:14. It's part of the message of the angel -- to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. Sure, I can accept that it's part of the general tenor of the birth of the Messiah, and is thus suitable for any holyday card. On the other hand, it is the magi's visit to Judea that sparks Herod's paranoid slaughter of all the baby boys in the area of Bethlehem. Not quite "peace on earth" or "goodwill" (Rejoice, again, that your brain doesn't operate like mine.)
How about "We have come to worship him"? Or, "They presented their gifts..."? Or even, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced"? Or, if you really must, "We Three Kings." Perhaps the artist is considering the global implications of the "peace on earth" brought by the child, as demonstrated by the Gentile acknowledgement of him in the persons of the Magi. R-i-g-h-t...
Replace folk art Wise Men with folk art shepherds -- or even a swirly-twirly gingham folk art angel, and it would be a genuine improvement. And it would probably still make me slightly sick to my stomach. Still, even in its original condition, it's better than Thomas Kincade.