It was a cold winter day in the East. The magi had returned from their journey to Bethlehem. The magi, as you may know, were the government intelligentsia, the ‘best and brightest,’ charged with assisting the government in planning for the future by reading what was significant in the world. They scoured the newspapers and the scientific journals; they watched for signs in political movements; they followed trends in the stock market. They watched indeed for how the ‘stars aligned’ to discern what was truly significant in the world. It had been several months since their journey. Now they were back.
Balthasar, the oldest of the magi addresses us.
“Let me tell you the story. A few months ago, my team at the Legislature caught word of something, an unsubstantiated report really, of a sign of hope ‘coming to birth’ in a little, insignificant town. All four of our team were drawn in—for our own reasons.
I think you’ve read about my friend Caspar. You might not know that Caspar came from money. Caspar was a young man who had, in turn, dedicated his life to the values of his parents. His parents had a stable full of Arabian horses; Caspar had a Porsche and a Rolls. If you ever met Caspar on the street you might have said, ‘Now there’s a man who has everything.’ But I knew Caspar. I knew that no matter how much he gathered, the young Casper was never satisfied. So when he heard word, an unsubstantiated report really, of a sign of hope coming to a little insignificant town, Caspar was one of the first to pack his bags for the journey.
My colleague Melchior is older than Caspar, but his hair is not as grey as mine. Melchior is brilliant. Quick witted. Charming. But a few years back, something happened to Melchior. He had always been a court favorite, but Melchior gradually became a bit of a loner. His marriage suddenly broke apart. He never told me what happened. Maybe he didn’t know himself. But it didn’t surprise me that when we heard word, an unsubstantiated report really, of a sign of hope coming to a little insignificant town, Melchior began packing his bags.
My wife Helena and I are the elder statesman on the team. You may not have met Helena. We have worked together at the Legislature most of our lives while we raised our three girls. The three girls have been on their own for some time now, and I hear they are doing fine. But the house has been pretty quiet these days. So when we heard word, an unsubstantiated report really, of a sign of hope coming to a little insignificant town, we began packing our bags.
It was quite a journey to little Bethlehem. We wondered more than once what in heaven’s name we were looking for and how on earth we were going to find it. Then, finally, we had a hunch; we took a chance; we knocked on the door of a little house. And the door opened.
What did we find? How can I describe it? A little house. A dirt floor. An older man. A young wife. An oil lamp on a wooden crate in the corner. And just visible in the lamplight, a baby. What is the baby’s name, we whispered? The mother said, “Emmanuel”—which means in our language, ‘God is with us.’
Helena gathered the child into her arms and talked/almost sang with a soft voice, cheek to baby’s cheek. We three men, with a gentleness we thought we had forgotten, held the child. Then—I don’t know how to explain this part—Caspar, without a word, rose and left the room. He returned from his saddlebags with a chest of priceless gold. Melchior a moment later, left the room and returned from his saddlebags with a flask of priceless myrrh. Helena and I found ourselves last, taking from our saddlebags a priceless container of frankincense. This child had opened our hearts.
The truth is, we are different people today, we magi. It is true that many things have not changed. Caspar still acts like it’s the end of the world when his Ford won’t start (by the way, he sold his Rolls and gave the money to the local food bank). Melchior still has days when the weight of the past seems to nearly buckle him over. And Helena and I, we have those long nights when we obsess about things that belong in God’s hands, not ours. But, you know, something at the center of each of us has been touched by a light that we cannot begin to explain. And that light has changed our lives.”
“So,” says Balthasar, “that’s my story. What do you make of it?
Image: Nativity, Hieronymous Bosch, 16th century