Just look at the sky tonight! It is, I believe, the most wondrous sight of this beautiful, terrible world—more than mountains, more than a sunrise or sunset. You see, stars are both order and beauty, science and art, all at once. We can predict them, chart them, map them…but we also use them to tell stories.
You must pardon me if I ramble. I have traveled a long way. All of us have.
Most members of my caravan speak your language. We are scholars, and it was taught to us many generations ago by the seer Belshazzar—you would know him as Daniel—and his fellow exiles. And so you understand our words, but still you seem to be puzzled by what we seek. When we tell you that we have come to pay tribute to the King of the Jews, you whisper in fear and confusion.
Your King Herod especially. I saw it in his eyes. He feels threatened by this, by us and our journey and the news we bear. I cannot understand it. He may be…how can I say this tactfully in your language?
Crazy. There is no tactful way to say that, perhaps. So there it is. A crazy man is a dangerous thing. A crazy man ruling a nation….
You have surely heard of our Nebuchadnezzar. His pride was punished by your God taking away his strength of mind. He was like a wild animal for seven years before he was restored. I have to admit, it gives me great satisfaction to imagine your Herod eating grass and braying like a donkey.
It was with great reluctance that Herod gave us the information we sought…at first. Then he replied with hasty apologies and grand statements of his intent to worship the king as well.
It did not…. How shall I put this? It did not feel very genuine. Nebuchadnezzar took seven long years to repent of his pride. I am doubtful your Herod accomplished the same in fifteen minutes.
Ah well. At least he told us where to find the King. In Bethlehem, according to your texts, just a small babe, based on the time we saw the star—His star—rise in the sky. We, the magi, depart for Bethlehem at first light tomorrow.
You are skeptical, I see. I enjoy a good skeptic. Well, then, bring me your questions. “Why should God work through the stars?” you ask.
Why should he not? Perhaps it is not a message you readily understand, you people of Jerusalem. But we, the Persians, received it clearly. It is in our heritage to watch the stars for signs, and your God has announced the King’s arrival to us as clearly as a parade trumpeted through the streets. The Great God, who created all peoples, surely speaks all languages, does he not? For he created the languages too. In your tradition, this event is known as Babel. I know that story, and others.
My father was a very old man when he passed along the stories of the Hebrews to me. He was a believer in your God, as was his father before him, and so on back to the days of Belshazzar.
I remember saying one day to my father, “The gods of our people, when faced with rebellion like that of Babel, would wipe out mankind entirely, or at least smite the earth with fire. This god did not, though you say he did during the Great Flood. You say this god punishes sometimes by destroying, sometimes by creating. That he is both justice and mercy. How can one god have so many conflicting traits?”
And he said, “Son, a god with only one dominant attribute, who can act only in one predictable way, is a god made to look like us, fashi0ned after our likeness. Would you not expect the real God to be so far above and beyond us that he cannot always be explained or understood?”
And I, with my customary wit and wisdom, responded…with silence.
I was young then. I wanted to understand God because I wanted to be god. But that is not my place.
Do I still ask the question “Why?” Of course, because it is not just the question of the skeptic, but of the lover. One who truly cares to go deeper, past the surface, to understand….
But who will be content when understanding comes short. Yes. I have learned to wait at the end of a long journey in the darkness—and worship. For the God I seek is greater still, farther still, and we will always be seeking him.
The others in my caravan brought gifts, tribute, as our ancestors did when they visited your King Solomon the Wise. Gold, incense, and the most expensive of spices, as one would use to prepare a body for burial.
It seems a shame, does it not, that we save our greatest treasures for death? But we can’t carry them beyond. Some Persian teachings would disagree, but I have seen many dead men in my life, even dead kings, and I am in agreement with your Solomon: the grave is their end as well. Perhaps this is why his writings—particularly Ecclesiastes—have long been favorites of mine.
Could it be different, for this king, the King of the Star? I believe it could. Our Nebuchadnezzar, your Solomon and Herod—they all ruled over vast territories with absolute authority, building wonders that will last the ages before crumbling to ruins. But they will crumble.
This is a King greater than Nebuchadnezzar, greater than Solomon, greater than Herod, though I would not want to be the one to tell your madman that. This baby is a King who can rearrange the firmament to speak of his arrival.
His arrival…to do what? Why has this King come among us?
I do not know. And I have finally come to the place where I do not need to know.
Still, you are not convinced. I can see it in your eyes. And this is why: You, his own people, did not understand the message in the stars.
May I be so bold as to suggest that perhaps it was not for you?
I will not say that you are not chosen. The King was born as one of your people, after all, and your histories show God’s favor upon you. My father spoke often of Abraham, whose descendants were to be as many as the stars in the sky. I have always loved that promise. Of all the things too numerous to count, your God chose stars.
Do you remember, too, the next words of your God to Abraham? “And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
The words of your God…and the words of my God. For I have sought the child born in the least of your cities, born the greatest of kings. I will bow to this king, and I, too, will be counted among the stars.
(To read the rest of the Advent Stories, go here.)