Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. (Isaiah 43.5)
‘Have you noticed there’s someone missing? We’ve only just arrived and the party seems to be over. The truth is it hasn’t been easy to get here at all. It took us a long time to even decide that we’d make the journey. You see – and this isn’t easy to say – we live in a really nice place, hanging gardens, sherbet, good wines, dancing, great poets, a lot of respect for anyone who has spent their life studying – and the architecture! If you love good buildings then you should come and see where we come from. So when Caspar said that he’d seen a new star in the sky and had been working out what it meant and what it meant was that we should all pack our bags, mount our camels and travel to Palestine, well I won’t tell you what we said.
The thing is that Palestine is a bit off the beaten track. It’s true that traders pass through, but they do just that, pass through! The Temple in Jerusalem is impressive but when you’ve said that you’ve said it all. And Caspar, for all his wisdom, wasn’t quite clear, if we followed the star, where exactly it would take us – the lush north of the country or the barren rocky south.
People call us ‘Wise Men’ but people didn’t think we were being very wise when we made the decision and began to put a caravan together. My wife wasn’t happy. ‘It’s a war zone’ she said. ‘Their king is dreadful, unpredictable, paranoid, everyone knows that – the kind who’d commit a war crime.’ But she’s always like that, sees the worse that could happen – and I’m the one who’s meant to read the stars!
But we put the protests aside because as the star became clearer in the heavens it also became clearer that this was a monumental happening. The talk between my three companions was of a new king, the fulfilment of a promise, a new beginning, a life-changing child. Sorry, I should have said who we are – Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior – and me. If my presence surprises you don’t worry, I don’t take offence. I never get a mention really and it’s all to do with those presents.
They decided that we should take three, after all it was an auspicious number and we really like numbers. ‘But there are four of us’ I said. That didn’t matter – the gifts were from us I was told. They’d talked a lot about what to take – my companions do a lot of talking and watching and talking! But finally the decision was made; gold for a king, frankincense for a deity and myrrh – that was the hardest to decide on – for the bitterness that would lie ahead for the child. So there were three gifts and four of us and the rest of them – we don’t travel light.
When we set off we could have been mistaken for a bunch of kings on the move rather than wise men but we just hoped that no one would make the mistake.
It was a long journey and as the terrain became tougher I looked back to those beautiful gardens, the rose trees and the fountains, the sophistication of life. There wasn’t much sophistication where we were travelling – shepherds on the move mainly, women with water jars, the odd barley field and olive grove. But it was mostly sand and rock that we see, day in, day out.
But at night the star was there and we were able to check with our instruments that we were on the right path.
As we got closer we began to talk about what we would do when we got there. The polite thing and the right thing would be to pay our respects to the king and after all, if a new king was to born it must be in the palace. But the voice of my wife was in my ear, urging me to go nowhere near Herod. But the others thought we had no choice – we were strangers in the land. And so as we got closer we decided to go first to Jerusalem and in truth that was where the star was heading.
You can read for yourself what happened when we finally got to see him. The others did the talking, I tried to remain in the background. But for all his grandeur I wouldn’t trust him an inch. ‘Come back and tell me all about this new king’ he said, ‘so that I too may go and pay him homage.’ As if!
It was evening when we finally left Herod’s Palace (actually that was a very sophisticated place – I take back what I said about Palestinian architecture) and the journey to the place was very quick. The star led us, shining now with such intensity that the night around us was being turned to day.
When we finally arrived we were surprised. It was hardly a city to be honest, more like a large village but with a big past. It was a busy place but as we entered we created quite a stir. I don’t think that they’d ever seen anything quite like this – like the circus coming into town! It was later than we’d planned but escaping the king was not easy – but when we were so close we decided we had to complete the journey.
It was an ordinary house that we found, bathed in starlight. Someone from the neighbourhood told me that they had begun in the place living in a stable but when the crowds disappeared they found this house and Joseph had begun to do a bit of carpentry to pay the rent. We knocked at the door and lifted the latch. I don’t know what I’d really expected but all the talk of kingship and divinity hadn’t really prepared me for a child, an ordinary child being held by his mother. She was radiant – her face gave out goodness as the star gave out light. Behind her stood her husband, slightly in the shadows.
I hardly remember a word being said, as though they had strangers arriving every day. We greeted the family and one by one my companions gave their gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. And then all eyes seemed to be fixed on me – and they knew I hadn’t got a gift. I stepped forward and knelt before the child and his mother. ‘I haven’t brought a gift’ I said. The mother smiled ‘Your love is gift itself’ she said – and she meant it. The others looked at me and that brief moment was like eternity.
As we rode away it was I who felt that I had been given a gift – such love as cannot be described.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.