From the CLAY “Story” Series
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2
“Stars don’t move like that,” the venerable Persian scholar said, never looking up from the scroll on which he was writing.
“Apparently they do,” replied his younger and obviously excited peer. “This one is most assuredly moving at an unusual pace.”
“Maybe you’ve mistaken one of the other worlds for a star.”
“I may have not have your longevity with the Magi, but I’m no raw apprentice, either,” replied the younger of the two, obviously indignant. “Our order have been watching the skies for centuries, recording the movements of every visible point of light in the heavens. Since joining our esteemed ranks, I have diligently studied those charts and bear more than a passing acquaintance with our knowledge of the celestial bodies.”
His elder associate glanced up from his work. “Is that so.”
“Yes. And this is definitely a new star and it is definitely moving.”
“So you may have discovered a new star—it’s happened before. We’ll name it after you.”
Struggling to retain his composure, the younger man leaned over the intricately carved table at which his colleague sat and spoke at a measured pace. “Will you come with me, please, and see for yourself?”
The older one continued to hold his gaze for a moment, then deposited his quill in the pot of black ink. “I would be glad to. That is, if someone of your youth and scholarship would deign to assist a senile old geriatric with decades of longevity up the stairs.”
The younger one straightened up, visibly contrite. “Now I’ve offended you. When I said I didn’t have your longevity, I didn’t mean—”
“I know what you meant,” he said with a sly grin. “Hopefully your sense of humor will develop with age. Bring my staff.”
The younger hurriedly retrieved the cane from the corner. “You’re an insufferable old man, you know.”
“And you’re an excessively sober youngster.” He took the walking stick in hand. “Now show me this new star.”
The pair left the richly appointed chamber arm-in-arm, making their way slowly up the winding, torch-lit staircase. The elder one took each step slowly as the younger one chattered on excitedly.
“I first noticed it a few nights ago as I was leaving the repository—an unfamiliar brightness caught my attention. As I watched, it slowly but unmistakably began moving toward the west.”
“All heavenly objects move in that direction.”
“Yes, but at a measured and barely perceptible pace. This one moved visibly and purposefully.”
“If it’s been a few nights since you saw it, I’m sure it’s moved on.”
They reached the top of the stairs. “You’ll see.”
He swung the heavy wooden doors open onto the roof, assisting the older one as he stepped gingerly across the threshold.
“The night is clear. You should be able to see it easily.”
He guided his older companion to the ornate balustrade around the perimeter of the roof. “There,” he said pointing toward the sky.
The older one peered intently at the bright point of light almost directly above them. As he watched, it seemed unmistakably to move toward the west, then slow as if waiting to be followed. He glanced at several points in the heavens as if to get his bearings, then returned his focus to the shining object. “Remarkable. Definitely something new. But again,” he said, turning toward his younger associate, “new stars are not unheard of. Granted, the movement is unusual, but other than that, why did you not simply make record of it?”
The younger one withdrew a piece of folded parchment from a tuck in his robe. “Because of this.” He unfolded it to reveal a few lines of hastily scribbled writing. “I’ve been studying the Jewish scriptures left by Daniel, one of our number appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar, some 600 years ago.”
“Daniel? The Israelite captive?”
“The same. In addition to his own manuscripts, he left copies of their law and history, including writings by their ancient prophet Moses.” He handed the bit of parchment to the older one. “I copied this last evening. Should I fetch one of the torches from the stairwell?
“I think the light from the star is quite bright enough.” He read: “‘I see him, but not now. I behold him, but not near.’ Seemingly a reference to an individual who was to come at some future date. ‘A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel’. A reference to both a star and a king.”
The younger one pointed to the bright light above them. “This star, I believe.”
“And the king?” The older one handed the scrap of parchment back to him. “Something tells me you have more.”
“Yes. Daniel foretold the exact time—to the year—that the ‘Anointed One’—the Jewish Messiah, the king to which I am certain this star points—would be ‘cut off’ or put to death.”
“And that year?”
“If my calculations are correct, 33 years from now.”
The older one laid his hand on the younger one’s arm and looked up, his face shining in the light from the star. “Which means this star could definitely be heralding his birth—a birth that may at long last provide us with the truth and wisdom for which we’ve been searching.”
“Precisely,” replied the younger one. “And I believe it’s beckoning to us to follow it.”
The older one suddenly grasped the arm of the younger one and began pulling him back toward the staircase. “We must gather the others.”
• • •
The room was filled with the most brilliant minds in Persia, wealthy scholars whose chief ambition was the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom. At this moment, however, they had been called away from evening meals and personal pursuits to listen to their youngest member, dubious as to the veracity of the tale he passionately recounted; a tale based on the purportedly accurate but—if the truth were known, thought by many of the Magi to be questionable—records of a peculiar people: the Jews of Israel.
“Are you certain your calculations are correct?”
The young Magi confidently defended his theories to his detractors. “Yes; I performed them repeatedly, arriving at the same conclusion each time. According to Daniel’s prophecy, this star is appearing at the perfect time to serve as a harbinger of the birth of the promised king of the Jews. You will recall that Daniel became the leader of the Magi shortly after he was taken captive by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar; the Jewish scriptures he left us with their prophecies by the likes of Isaiah and Micah were, in his sincerest convictions, infallibly accurate. I see no reason to doubt his beliefs at this point.”
“I agree,” said a voice from the back of the room. “Daniel’s gifts are unrivaled to this day.”
Another one spoke up. “I fear, however, the whole affair has an air of the fantastic. With all due respect, my brothers, how can we be certain we’ll find anything of value at the end of what will certainly be a long journey?” The room hummed with the rumble of conflicting emotions.
The oldest of their number raised his hands to call for order. “Brothers, no doubt each of you noticed the unusually bright object in question as you made your way here tonight. Can any of you avow, with absolute honesty, that you felt no compulsion whatsoever to follow the urging of this phenomenon, no sense that it will guide us to the source of all truth?”
The room fell quiet.
“Then I will take your silence as a ‘no’. Therefore, when our journey of hope to Israel commences—and it will, even if the two of us are its only sojourners—will anyone be staying behind?”
“Excellent. We leave in a fortnight.”
• • •
The westward pilgrimage with its sweeping and splendid caravan of regally clothed Magi, well-trained cavalry for protection, and menagerie of beasts of burden, tended by an army of servants and laden with provisions for the journey and treasure to honor the new king, slowly but steadily pursued the heavenly beacon.
Upon fording the Jordan River after many months of travel and setting up camp a short distance from Jerusalem, two members of their number, accompanied by a small contingent from the cavalry, were dispatched to the capital city to request an audience with the reigning king as the rest of the company waited.
While waiting for word on the arrangements, the younger one peered into the richly panoplied pavilion of the older one. “A word, with you, if I may?”
“Of course, my friend—come in. Wine? Dates?” he said, indicating a sumptuous array of delicacies laid out on a small side table. The younger one waved off the offer and sank into a plush mound of cushions strewn about the carpeted floor of the tent. The older one eyed him narrowly. “You seem pensive—or perhaps troubled.”
“I’m concerned with our delay. While your leadership throughout the journey has been without reproach, I’m uncertain why we feel it necessary to stop in Jerusalem. Their prophet Micah indicated the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, a few miles further on.”
“Indeed he did, my learned friend, but his birth was 18 months ago. Surely the young king has taken up residence in the capital city by now. If not, then we will continue on after the star, secure in the knowledge that we have followed proper diplomatic protocols with their current king.”
“You’re correct, of course—I’m being restive again.”
“Not restive—merely eager, as are we all. But we must also be good ambassadors.” He took a date for himself from the table. “However, you are not alone; I confess that the waiting is about to best me.”
“Precisely. Of late, I find myself so consumed with the promise of the star and finding that which we’ve been searching for that the anticipation is practically palpable.”
A servant entered the tent and bowed deeply. “Master, the two have returned from Jerusalem.”
The younger one jumped up from his seat and helped his companion up from his chair, the older one waving a hand to the servant. “Yes, yes—send them in.”
The servant held the drapery for the returning Magi: one tall, who greeted his fellows with a kiss, and the other plump, who promptly made a beeline for the serving table.
The tall one spoke first: “My brothers, we have had a most enlightening—although odd—visit with their king, Herod.” He directed his question to the plump one. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
Pausing from helping himself long enough to reply, he responded, “What? Oh, yes—the king. Sickly and paranoid, that one. Your instincts were correct,” he said to the older one. “Had we ridden into Jerusalem in full force he would have quite possibly died from fright—and the rest of the population of Jerusalem with him.”
“With their history of Persian conquest I felt our presence might pose a perceived threat. What of the young king—when can we see him?”
“That’s the odd part,” the tall one answered. “Our announcement was the first notice of his arrival the king and his court had apparently received.”
“Surely not,” said the young one, incredulous. “How is that possible? Their scriptures are filled with prophecy about his advent. How can his own people be unaware that their promised Messiah has been born?”
The plump one spoke with his mouth full. “One gets the impression that their scriptures are considered more an outdated relic than relevant instructions for contemporary life.”
The tall one spoke again. “As soon as we recounted the details of our experience with the star and asked where we could find the king of the Jews to which it pointed so that we could afford him the worship he deserves, the king turned red as a pomegranate, screamed for the priests and teachers of the law, and sent them scrambling to find out.”
“I suggested they begin with the writings of their prophet Micah in order to save time,” the plump one said, downing a goblet of wine. “At that point I was famished and in need of sustenance. Obviously this Herod is no Jew, as he was a terrible host.”
“And did they concur with our discovery that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem?” asked the younger one.
“They returned within the hour with the exact scroll, no doubt due to the suggestion offered by our ‘under-nourished’ brother,” replied the tall one, “and read Micah’s prophecy about Bethlehem: ‘Out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.’”
“Of course we knew that all along,” said the other, pouring himself more wine.
“We thanked him for his hospitality—”
“He jests, of course,” interrupted the plump one, tucking into a tray of roast quail.
“—and made to take our leave. No sooner had we reached the entrance to his palace, however, than one of his attendants stopped us and asked if the king could see us in his private chambers—alone.”
“I thought he had finally found his manners and set out a meal for us. But, no—”
“He wanted to know the exact time we first saw the star,” the tall one interrupted. “He then asked us to return and advise him of the location of the child when we found him so that he, too, could worship him.”
“I wonder why he felt it necessary to ask you that in private?” the younger one asked.
“Paranoid, as I mentioned earlier,” said the plump one, brushing remnants of his impromptu feast from his ornately embroidered robe with a linen napkin. “I don’t trust him. Any man who can’t at least set out a bit of bread and a skin of wine for esteemed guests who’ve traveled from practically the other side of the world—”
“Now, now, brother,” the older one said. “Their customs may merely be foreign to us. I’m sure he has the best intentions.”
“Humph. We’ll see.”
“At any rate,” continued the older one, returning to his chair, “We’ve performed the customary obeisance to the king and apparently have his blessings to continue our search for the promised Messiah.” To the younger one he said, “Alert the servants and the captain of the guard we will break camp tomorrow.” To the other two he instructed, “Apprise the others of your visit with King Herod. Recommend a night of rest to all; we will move tomorrow, right before dusk.”
• • •
“No!” The younger one sat bolt upright in bed, perspiration pouring from his face.
His servant pulled back the curtain. “Master? Are you ill?”
“I had a dream. Hand me my robe, please; I need to speak to the others immediately.”
• • •
“We must not return to Jerusalem, nor to Herod. His intentions toward the child are to destroy him—not to worship him.” The gathering of Magi murmured in confusion.
“Did I not say the man was paranoid?” the plump one reminded everyone.
“Surely we’re not going to defy the king’s request based on some dream,” said another.
“When have we ever discounted the significance of dreams? We are here because of the scriptures left us by their prophet Daniel, himself an interpreter of dreams. This was a message from their God.”
“I agree,” said the older one, raising his voice to be heard above the din. The others gradually quieted down. “We’ve traveled these many months simply on faith in prophecies that are not even our own. Tonight, however, one of our own number has received direct revelation.” He looked warmly at the younger one. “His diligence in observing the heavens and his scholarship interpreting their scriptures set this journey of hope and discovery in motion. We have nothing to lose if his dream was not real; but the world has everything to gain if it was. We will return home by a different route.”
“I suggest for now you all do your best to salvage what’s left of the evening and sleep. Tomorrow will be a momentous day.”
• • •
The trip to Bethlehem was brief, the star leading the way as it had for months. The caravan stopped on the outskirts of town just as the sun was setting so the servants could set up camp. The coterie of highly-esteemed and scholarly astrologers clad in their finest garments, arms laden with gifts made of gold and richly ornate vessels of the finest incense and perfumes, continued alone so as not to alarm the citizenry.
The young one cradled a jewel-encrusted gold chest, itself filled with more gold, in the crook of his arm. “I can scarcely believe our search is about to end,” he said to the older one, who was clutching his other arm for support. “We are about to witness the fulfillment of prophecy, revelation, and truth—all symbolized by this sign in the heavens,” indicating the star above them.
“Had someone told me I would one day leave all that I knew behind and follow a light in the sky for months to visit a child, I fear I would have declared him mad,” replied his elder companion. “Yet here I am, as delighted as a boy, buoyant as a lad. I dare say I could have left my staff behind and raced here unaided.”
“From the beginning I have been drawn here,” replied the younger one. “For that, I have no other explanation than the same God who spoke to me in my dream has called me here to be a witness—a witness to the truth that will change the world. Truth that will no doubt change even me.”
As they neared the village, the light from the star seemed to narrow to a single beam, illuminating a small mud brick dwelling on the edge of town. The Magi hastened their pace, stopping in front of the house indicated by the light from the star. They stood quietly at the door to the simple home and took in the humble surroundings.
“I expected something much more fitting for a king,” said one.
“Their prophet Isaiah wrote, ‘He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,’” said the young one. “Would that all rulers had at least a passing acquaintance with humility. Not that this ruler has anything to be humble about.”
“Not every king must be born in a palace, I suppose” said another.
“My brothers, we can continue to stand here and discuss our preconceptions of nobility, or we can see if anyone is about,” said the older one. He nodded to the young one who softly rapped on the wooden door. After a brief moment, they heard the muffled voice of a woman.
“Who’s there?” she asked.
The older one nodded again to his young escort. “We’ve come to see the promised king,” he answered. There was silence from the other side of the door. He tried again. “We’ve traveled a great distance to worship the one who will sit on David’s throne.”
After a moment, the door opened a tiny bit. One dark eye peaked out, growing wide with amazement at the sight of the Magi’s presence. She opened the door further and, as one man, the entire assemblage bowed low to the ground—not to honor the dark-eyed maiden but in reverence to the child resting on her hip.
The older one, unable to bow as low as the others, was the first to rise. “Good evening, dear woman,” he said to the young mother. “Please tell me—what is the boy’s name?”
“His name is Jesus.”
The young one, who was still kneeling, replied, “That means ‘God is salvation’.”
She smiled. “Yes.” She looked lovingly at her son. “Yes it does.”
The boy looked from one to the other as they began to stand to their feet, babbling and pointing to the shiny objects they carried. Each one smiled, enchanted with the lively toddler, his eyes as bright as his mother’s. “How did you find us?” she asked.
The young one glanced to the bright object overhead. “The star led us here.”
She followed his gaze upward, focusing on the object flooding her home with light – not as one surprised by its appearance, but as one who had grown accustomed to the extraordinary.
“Is the boy’s father here?” asked the older one.
She hesitated, as if unsure what to say. “My husband is working in Jerusalem. But, most assuredly, my son’s Father is the one who brought you here,” she finally answered. They looked puzzled—all but the young one.
“‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son’,” he said. “Isaiah wrote that.” She nodded.
“Remarkable,” said the older one. “We stand awed and amazed at the miracles we’ve witnessed—are witnessing.”
The young one held out his chest of gold. “We brought gifts for the new king. It would be an honor if you would accept our offerings.”
The others presented their gifts as well. The young mother stared in amazement at the amount of treasure they bore. “Of course. Thank you. I’ve never seen such… Please—bring everything inside.” Mother and child stepped outside the door to make room for the tall one and the young one to bring the gifts gathered from their fellow Magi inside.
The young one placed the last of the gifts in the house and made his way back outside. As he passed the mother, the child reached for him with his short, plump arms. “He seems to be taken with you,” she said, laughing. “Would you care to hold him?”
“Oh, I don’t… I mean, I’ve never…”
“It’s all right,” she said, placing the boy in his arms. “He’ll be fine.”
He held the child tentatively. The boy locked eyes with the Magus, his small hand reaching out to touch his cheek. The mesmerized scholar, suddenly struck with the significance of the one in his arms, spoke softly, more to himself than to anyone else: “‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father… Prince of Peace.’” A tear rolled down his cheek. “You’re the one Isaiah spoke of, aren’t you?”
The child Messiah in his arms touched the now tear-stained cheek again, and, in a voice still learning to speak intelligibly, said, “Jesus.”
“Jesus,” the young man repeated. He hugged the boy tightly, kissing the top of his tousled head, and handed him back to his mother.
Wiping a misty eye himself, the older one said, “As much as we would love to stay and bask in the presence of the new king, we have a long journey ahead of us.”
“Can I bake some bread for your trip before you go? I know you must be hungry.”
“Now there’s a good Jewish girl,” murmured the plump one approvingly to those nearby.
“Thank you for your gracious offer of hospitality, but we must return to our encampment soon lest our cavalry detachment come bursting into town to rescue us,” said the older one, smiling.
“I understand,” she said. “Thank you to each of you. Before you go, what are your names?”
“There is only one name here that is important,” said the younger one. “That name is Jesus.”
“I will surely pray for safe travels for you and for God’s richest blessings.”
“Thank you dear woman—God has, this night, already blessed us richly,” said the older one. “Our coming here was the fulfillment of a lifetime of searching for truth. Seeing the child Messiah and the promise he brings is a gift far greater than any of those we brought. We bid you goodnight.”
The distinguished gathering of Magi each offered their farewells as the mother and child went back in the house; when she had closed the door, they turned and made their way back through the streets of Bethlehem.
At the edge of the town, the younger one stopped and look back.
“The star,” he said, fixed to his spot.
“What of it?” said one of the others.
The company stopped and turned to look. Except for the usual array of heavenly bodies, the still night sky was clear.
“I suppose its role is complete,” said one.
“Once again,” the older one said, “I say ‘remarkable’.”
The Magi stood watching night fall on the little town of Bethlehem, birthplace of a savior, the promised Prince of Peace. In those brief moments in the presence of the Messiah, their lives were inexplicably changed. The star had dutifully led them to the source of all truth for which they had long sought. And though they would eventually return to the place from where they came, nothing would ever again be the same—for those who’ve met Jesus, it never is.
After a while these newest worshippers of the Son of God turned and, with arms empty and hearts full, continued their long journey home.
©2015 Dusty Teague
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