Nowadays the wise men - and wise women - have to do a lot more explaining, and a lot less mysterious gift-giving. For a start there are more of them: six versus three. Also, as members of the Treasury's panel of advisers, they have to deal with Chancellor Kenneth Clarke on a regular basis who - with the best will in the world - does not hold up to any comparison with Jesus, who even from an early age was billed as the saviour of mankind. After all, the jury remains out merely on whether Clarke will be the saviour of the Conservative party or the destroyer of it.
Worse still, the modern wise people's advice must now dwell on mundane topics like inflation, money supply and public sector borrowing, perhaps more appropriate topics for the Christmas period in this age of consumerism, but hardly the stuff of a nativity play.
So what would happen if the Chancellor's wise men got to choose a saviour, and give them the gift of their choice? The results are surprisingly catholic.
Professor Patrick Minford, one of the Chancellor's original panellists, has no doubts. "Margaret Thatcher would be my saviour of mankind," he says. "She is obviously responsible for Britain's renaissance and, in a broader sense, she is partially responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism."
And what would Professor Minford's gift be? "A better way of setting monetary policy. Using inflation as a target is the only way to do it at the moment, but it is a bad rule. We need a control mechanism that bears more relationship to economic cycles."
His wise colleagues have steered clear of politicians. Kate Barker, chief economist at the CBI, was disinclined to choose anyone but Jesus as her saviour of the world, but if he was excluded she would plump for the 19th century (female) novelist George Eliot. Ms Barker's gift would be for Eliot "to be born at a different time" so that she could have used her own name (Mary Ann Evans) and put her early feminist views to better use.
Martin Weale, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, would have Dr Karl Frederich Gauss (1788-1855), mathematical genius, as his saviour of mankind.
"My gift to him would simply be a pen and some paper so he could continue his work in mathematics, which I believe is the most important of all disciplines because it is from mathematics that all scientific advances flow."
And finally, Gavyn Davies, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, who believes that Southampton Football Club is in pressing need of saving, and the only man to do it is its manager Graeme Souness.
Mr Davies's gift to the Southampton manager? "I would give him Alan Shearer back. The club has not been the same since he left."Reuse content