Bethlehem, five miles south of Jerusalem
Three courtly priests, known as magi, among a caravan from Parthia walked with their hooded heads and faces down to shield them from the sandstorm blasting their camels and precious cargo.
They were all from different parts of the country, and even though they made their plans to meet in Parthia to travel together, all of them were originally from the same far away world. They each had many things in common. They all left their kingdoms in the hands of loyal princes to pursue the turn of a celestial event that would indicate an alteration in the course of the history of man. This would not be a king such as they were. On the contrary, he would be king for all time. Their translators and aids huddled around them, forming a convoy to protect them as much as possible from the elements of the dry, sandy, dunes.
Desert snakes side-winded to the wayside and scorpions disappeared into the hot sand to make a clear path for them to travel. Palms that looked like an oasis in the distance proved to be real and provided an escape from the heat of the sun, and doves came near when they stopped to water their camels and quench their own thirsts.
They inquired everywhere they stopped, and oddly enough they felt no impending danger, as they were looking for someone special in particular and were now approximately two years, as the crow flies, into their journey.
It would be nightfall again before they would resume their journey, as the night unveiled the celestial sign that was their compass. After seeing the star over the land of Judea and logically concluding that a king would be born in a palace, they made their way to the palace of Herod of Judea. They had no reason to believe otherwise, for they were not Jews and had no direct knowledge of the prophecies, only that which was given to them in their own land and by the change in the constellations and celestial events that marked a new prince and a new age. They established that the King would certainly know where to search, in case the child was not there. They were educated in the political conflicts of the land and had some fear of Herod, for he had support of Rome, which was ruling this land. Caesar was Emperor and had a reputation of being brutal. Therefore, they who made their decision to check and see if the new king was in the palace of Herod of Judea. It was the logical place to look for a King, and the star was at that point in time just over the skies of Jerusalem, although they were somewhat confused as the shimmering star stayed in constant motion and had not come to rest.
Two centurions escorted the group into the palace and asked them to wait while they checked with the high priest for arrangements for their stay. The King’s aide summoned the party to be seated for wine and food, as the members of the tired caravan smiled and gladly accepted the invitation.
As the group calmly settled down, with legs crossed on their own blankets spread out on the courtroom floor, one of the kings signaled the other two with a foreboding look in his eyes, for he sensed the child was not here.
“I will not tolerate night intruders, no matter what their mission.” The irate voice screamed and echoed through the palace walls, leaving some of the guards shaken with fear. Not bothering to dress for a formal meeting, Herod stepped through a long hallway surrounded by servants and guards, as one cautiously tried to calm down the disgruntled leader and ushered him to his throne.
“This better be important,” he snidely warned the guards.
An interpreter stepped forward and cleared his throat to speak in one of fifteen languages, which he had mastered from his youth. One of Herod’s interpreters met him step for step.
The court interpreter hesitated and turned to Herod and translated, “They are astronomers, and have come across the Mediterranean following a star that they believe should have led them to a new king. They only surmised that the prince would be born here, your majesty,” he explained, as he lowered his head timidly, for he knew that this answer would not satisfy his master.
Herod, as well as all who were awake in the palace, stared at the three magi in disbelief. This is not a nightmare—this is really happening, Herod thought to himself as he leaned back in his chair and studied the group for a few minutes. The regal garments and jeweled turbans, as well as the cargo in their caravan, certainly accredited them as royalty. Herod’s face drew a blank. In an expression of enlightenment, he softened his voice and signaled the servants to continue pouring wine for the foreigners. “Do tell me more,” Herod told his interpreter. The court interpreter focused his attention back to the one speaking for the group, and after a few minutes of conversation between the two men, he gulped and turned back toward Herod. “Sire, I fear that by now terror surely has spread throughout the city that these kings are looking for a new Caesar.” “A new Caesar?” Herod stormed out in a rage, challenged with a huff, and took a deep breath, “By whose authority would this new king be crowned, because Caesar rules in Rome and I rule here?" “I have no son—that I am aware—at least not yet,” he smirked wickedly and laughed. His courtroom was now full of servants who laughed at the comment. The foreign interpreters were now talking fast between them, and Herod’s interpreters turned once more to face him. “Sire, they are adamant that this is the region a new king is to be born, as it is their religious belief that a new star appears every time a new king is born, and that this star moves until it is situated over the region where the child resides.”
Herod broke out into a loud, resonating laugh, although the interpreter lowered his head as he finished off his words, for if this were possible and the newborn king was not Herod’s son, there would be trouble. Nevertheless, he continued in his translations, “They have estimated by the age of the star that the child would be about six months old, and since these kings have been inquiring among this city, it is safe to presume that others will begin to look also.”
Herod stopped laughing now, leaned forward with a more serious expression, proceeding to have the court interpreter interrogate the three kings with questions pertaining to their credibility as astronomers. “What proof do they have that any king will be born just because a new star has appeared?” Herod asked, as he focused his eyes on the three kings, although directed his question to the interpreter.
“They say this is a miracle that has been witnessed by many in the past. They have sacred scrolls in their land,” the interpreter said, feeling helpless.
“What instruments or maps are you using to locate this…new king?” he asked, taking care to keep his rage and fear under control. This question was relayed and the smaller of one of six interpreters came forward with swift steps, opening a map showing the locations of stars, and an instrument which Herod demanded be turned over to him for inspection. The little man stuttered the significance of the map and the use of the instrument, leaving out no detail, speaking slowly so the court interpreter could explain. “As y-y-you can see,” the little man began, “this ins-t-t-trument is used for navigation on ships, and it will also bring the celestial bodies c-c-closer to your view. If you were to look through this outside on a clear night, you would be able to see the star is in this vicinity, indicating that the king is born in this region. We have traveled a long way to bring him gifts.” Herod inhaled angrily and cross-examined them about the device while trying to look through it. The instrument was explained as having a convex lens and mirror. Herod interrupted with an accusation, “Such a device could be used for spying gold being counted in the counting house from a distance.” This comment was translated and the foreigners cast glances at one another, puzzled by the way Herod analyzed the use of the instrument. One of the foreign interpreters thought it best to make sure Herod understood the true use of the device by explaining further how it was used. “There is no light necessary to reflect the image, although it requires a candle at night held closely to adjust the instrument into focus, and it was only capable of observing celestial events,” he clarified. “I would like to exchange some fine jewels for one of these devices so that I might observe enemies from a distance. It may be far superior to the ones we have,” he said, without listening to what was being explained. The interpreter assured him that the device only worked at night, and the light of the sun would cause only a problem in the visual effects of the instrument. Herod nodded and commented to his aide that from what he saw the instrument could not even show objects in the room and looked into the group of foreigners with greater agitation and more confusion than before. The oldest of the three kings spoke very little. He had a strong muscular body and held his head high with distinct dignity that seemed to go unnoticed by Herod. He crossed his arms in a stubborn stance while he sat and refused the wine. “What is your name?” Herod inquired of him. Another interpreter came forward and offered apologetically, “My master is called Gaspar, and is King of Tarsus.” He and his master were lighter skinned than the other two. He appeared to be in his late years, perhaps seventy or more, with silver-gray hair and glittering blue eyes. His matching gray beard was very long, and his pale complexion revealed that he was not from the same country of origin as the other two, yet they were all mysteriously together. Herod looked around again to the tallest, a tall Negro also very muscular in build, with coal black eyes that appeared to be following every movement in the room very cautiously. “His name is Balthasar from Ethiopia,” the interpreter offered graciously. “What about the other one?” Herod asked sarcastically in the direction of Melchior, King of Arabia. The same interpreter bravely came forth with an introduction of this third King. Herod reached for his wine chalice and turned it up, while whispers and chatter in a foreign language continued. “We can just follow them and find out where this king lives,” suggested on of the aides. Herod was now starting to grow uneasy with their company. “Do you really think they can use that tubular form of sorcery to locate a prince? You insult my intelligence! Look at it! It is nothing other than a mirror of some sort attached to a hollow tube!” He was really studying this over and wiggled his fingers in a gesture for the servants to come closer. The tallest aide leaned his lips close to Herod’s ear. “Perhaps you should call for the chief priests and see if they know anything about this,” he suggested. Herod acted as though he did not hear him, then he turned to another one of the aides and gave orders. “Go get the chief priests and scribes. I want to know if this is some sort of hollow pursuit of some religious nature. Hollow tubes, hollow pursuits,” he mumbled to the aide. The aide nodded his head in agreement, but was not moving quickly enough to satisfy the King. “Well, are you superstitious or what? Go and get me the chief priests and scribes!” Herod commanded again, under restraint of yelling. After calling together all of the scribes and priests in the palace into the court and asking them of their knowledge of the legendary Messiah, there began an immediate exchange of glances between the groups. Some were smiles, others were serious and concerned looks that gave rise to intense feelings among the magi. The scribes and priests were sure that the instruments they were using would be considered sorcery, yet none of them would take a stand against the caravan. Surely, this was some sort of a trap of idol worship that would cause his kingdom to fall into the hands of another. The air grew thick with a quiet that unnerved Herod and the rest of the court, still the members of the caravan continued to converse in their own language, as though they were in a world apart from any other. They lived only for this one mission…to find the child. They chattered among one another and seemed to be arriving at some conclusion. The foreign kings all begin to stand up, and one by one, they bowed low to the floor. The interpreter stepped forward with a renewed sense of confidence. “We are very honored Your Majesty for your gracious offer of food and wine, however, we must be one our way while the stars are in the heavens. We travel by night and ask that we take our leave of you,” explained one of the interpreters. He continued, “Our mission to follow the star is very crucial.” Herod laughed to himself at this, even though he allowed them to leave so that he could have them followed. The magi were far too perceptive to leave themselves vulnerable to a now overly curious and insecure king. Walking softly through the palace gates, darting in and out of shadows to the back roads, they constantly looked behind them to see that no one was following their trail could find their trail. On the back of a camel at the tail end of the caravan sat a small slave boy straggling a large palm branch through the sand to cover their tracks. A mysterious fog in the shape of a hand engulfed the caravan, and they disappeared into a mist. The air began to crackle with a strange silence as though someone. The air began to crackle with a strange silence too. It was as though someone had turned off all the lights and sounds to the earth itself. The four spies sent to follow the caravan found themselves running into each other. Back in the palace sat the instead of a paranoid King Herod slept very little that night. In fact, it was the last night that he would sleep peacefully for a long time. The spies never found their subjects. Eventually, Herod tried to eliminate the threat to his throne by slaughtering all males in Judea age three and under. This would make a treacherous “king” such as he able to sleep very well. During the next day, the caravan settled near the river and the group slept in a warm breeze under shady palms in a remote area. They would take no chances of being discovered near any roads. Last night had convinced the magi that this King in Judea had no real interest in worshiping anyone other than himself. There would be no traveling until they spotted the star again to check its location. The journey ended for the magi when the star finally appeared the very same night in the exact location as the night before.
They laid in the fields at night and refused to move the caravan. They heard cattle lowing and saw wondrous motions in the night sky. Some of the interpreters were talented in the flute and harp, and played gentle harmony to soothe the animals in the caravan.
Each of the magi, with their tubular devices affixed with mirrors and ancient deflectors, had servants holding candles nearby. The servants marveled at their study of the skies, and the scene made an extraordinary picture for anyone passing through the fields. The next night, to their satisfaction, the star was once again confirmed to be stationary in the sky less than three miles away. However, it was believed necessary to be directly under the star to locate the child, so packing their gear, they made haste to a little city called Bethlehem, sparsely populated and not a likely place for a king to be born, although it would be a wondrous event worth leaving any kingdom to witness. Now, they would find the one for whom they had searched. The magi stood outside of a stable in Bethlehem and smiled contently at one another. It was a perfect plan and the perfect place to hide the most important person in time. Who would have looked for a king here? They waited patiently outside to get permission to enter and thought it would be a matter of courtesy to have the servant enter and see if all was well to present themselves and their gifts. Moments after the servant entered, a group of shepherds came out in elated excitement. They bowed low to the magi as they passed them. The servant stood in the doorway and signaled for them to come. The caravan waited in the shadows to guard their Master’s possessions. The three magi entered the stable with Balthasar leading the procession wearing a gold silken robe and blue turban with a gold star in the center. Red rubies surrounded the star, and he carried a large container of myrrh. This was not something unfamiliar to the parents of the child. They had heard that kings were swabbed with this and embalmed as mummies, however, they also knew of its healing and preserving qualities. Only kings received and possessed such gifts.
Balthasar, King of Ethiopia, kneeled to the ground and held out his gift for all who were present to see, then laid it down in front of the infant’s cradle. Opening the container, he took a small amount, rubbed it through his palms thoroughly, and rubbed the sleeping baby’s face and head. He slowly backed away in silent silence, removing his turban crown and humbly holding it before his face to pay homage to the real King of kings. Gaspar, King of Tarsus, in a like manner, brought forth a jar, exquisite in design and color, containing frankincense. His red robe represented the sacrifice that the child would one day make for mankind.His turban held an emerald of great value. He held the jar up for all to see, then opened it and spread a generous amount into his hands, rubbed them together in the same way that Balthasar had just done and smoothed the frankincense on the head of the babe. He removed his turban crown as he retreated to the back of the stable where Balthasar was waiting. Melchior, King of Arabia, walked forward slowly, wearing a robe of gold silk overlaid with opals. His turban had a large gold opal in the center. He kneeled down and placed the object that held captive all who were in attendance before the infant king. It was a small gold casket in the form of a shrine. He did not open it to reveal its contents. He moved away from the babe in the same way as the other two kings as was the custom in their land. The parents marveled at the tradition of these people. The infant’s father recognized their mannerisms as a religious rite performed for kings. They were not Jews. They were foreigners, and it was most unusual that they were aware of the customs of this region. All of these things were a reassurance to the parents that the infant that lay in the cradle was, indeed, destined to be a king. The three magi, together, dared for the first time to look into the face of the new king. A burst of brilliant light emanated from the babe, and the three mortal kings that had knelt before him became transformed, though they were not yet aware of it.
That night, each of the magi had the same dream while sleeping in their tents. The dream specifically warned them to turn away from Judea and leave the land. A destiny had been fulfilled with each, and now it was time for them to depart to another course of life.
The three magi loaded their caravan and plotted a different direction of return to their own homelands. They each had received a gift from the newborn king. Their faith in what they believed was all they had to inspire their journey to this land. Now, they would leave with much more than that which they had brought with them, as faith had become fact and their lives would be forever changed. The paradigm that they had perceived to be above the heavens was confirmed now, and they left with visions far greater than the star that had led them there.
What was their gift? They did not know, and how to use it would be surprising, taking some time to discover. They would not be the only ones endowed by the new King with extraordinary powers. They were only the first of many. Victims would be, in time, the recipients of their healing powers. Just across the Mediterranean Sea from Jerusalem, in the region called the land of Judea, was the country of Parthia where all of their plans originated. If they continued on their journey homeward toward Parthia, they would reach the sea to set sail to that country and make use of their new gifts there first. Their next stop would be in the eighteenth century. They would pass through a land across the sea known as the United States of America, and into a town called Davenport.