My eyelids fly open as a stool crashes to the floor, sending charts swirling down and skittering past my feet. My father stands at the window, rubs his eyes, looks again.
“Nima! Nima, look!” He points with one hand, gestures wildly with the other. “What is it?”
He often asks this question, quizzing me about the stars and constellations we study, but this is different. His breaths come in quick little puffs, and there is a quiver in his voice. Awake now, I drop my shawl and hurry to the window, begin to follow the line of his arm, but I can already see.
There is a bright light rising over the far hills – a light where no light should be.
I race down the stairs and into the street, fetching the other astronomers, and soon the room is full of sober old scholars shouting like children, clapping one another on the back, then returning to stare silently out the window.
Over the next weeks, they draw new charts and debate the meaning of this brilliant light moving strangely through the constellations. But in the end, there is little room for debate. Someone remembers a scroll, written hundreds of years before. It describes what we see – and proclaims the arrival of a great king, far west in Israel.
When we tell our own king, it becomes a council of war. A great king in Israel means a king who will conquer Rome, and that is a king to be feared. Far better, they decide, to befriend this new king, and so for reasons of awe and politics, we will send a delegation to honor him.
We wait a year for the child to be born and his palace established, and then set out – we Magi, those carrying the treasures, and a detachment of our finest soldiers. For a month, we ride, but when we finally reach Jerusalem, there is great confusion.
We are first mistaken for merchants and then questioned as spies. The guards at the gate know nothing of a new king and nothing of the star. “It’s to be expected,” my father says quietly to our commander. “The Jews are keeping it quiet to hide him from the Romans.”
But when we are taken to Herod, his face grows pale when he hears our purpose. “A king?” he exclaims. “Where?” A man leans over, whispers in his ear. The king nods angrily, and they leave the room. When he returns, his face has changed.
“Forgive me,” he says warmly. “We have none so wise as you in reading the heavens, and I – this is quite embarrassing – but I did not know our Messiah had arrived.”
His smile darkens for an instant as he glances at his advisors, then brightens again. “Like you, I am anxious to honor him – to send my own gifts. You will find him in Bethlehem – just down the road – and then you must return here, and rest from your long journey, and receive gifts for you and your king. In fact, my friends, this day is nearly spent. Stay here with me tonight.”
“Certainly, we are grateful, Highness,” my father says, in the cool voice he uses with dangerous men. “But my orders are to proceed. We will be some days in our ritual, and then gladly return for refreshment”. Following his lead, we all bow in our best fashion, walk backward a few steps, and leave the palace.
“Are you sorry you saw the star, Father?” I ask as we turn toward Bethlehem. “The child is now in danger, I think.”
“Yes, my son, but surely the Lord of the Heavens has foreseen this danger.”
I think on this as we ride into the gathering dusk. Ahead, there is a shout and then more shouting, and the caravan stops. “Something has happened, Father.”
“Yes, my son. Do you not see it?”
And there, just over the horizon, shines a bright light where no light should be. I gasp. “The Lord of the Heavens – he is with us, Father.”
“Yes, my son.”
At the edge of Bethlehem, my father stops the troops, and, with them – he hopes – the spies Herod sent to follow us. Under cover of darkness, the Magi dismount and continue into the village.
A few minutes later, he raises his hand, and we stop. A small house stands before us, and the star gleams over the door. “My friends,” he says, “I believe our journey has ended.”
A man opens the door, holds up a lamp to look us over. Our clothing and speech must be strange to him, but he does not seem entirely surprised. He nods, opens the door wider.
Inside, there is a woman and, in her arms, a child.
Like the star, we have traveled for many miles, across dark wilderness, through dangerous constellations of ambitious men. We have messages from two powerful kings, but none of that seems important now. We kneel before the child, trembling, silent as the star that led us.
I think he is a different kind of king, this Messiah, exalted in heaven but a stranger on the earth. The gifts we bring seemed odd – incense for a priest, balm for the dead – but I think they were chosen as we were chosen, to honor a ruler that few will understand – born to Israel, but a king for all nations.
At LIFE International, we honor Jesus – a different kind of king who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).
The gifts of the Magi were symbolic. Gold to signify the Christ-child’s royalty, frankincense for his role as our high priest, and myrrh (an embalming oil) to reflect his intention “from the foundation of the world” to offer his life as a sacrifice for us. (Revelation 13:8)
This story is a dramatization of events recorded in Matthew 2.