I have come here today to tell you a story. It’s a story that you think you know… but you don’t. You have only caught a glimpse of the truth. You have a version that has been changed and adapted and sanitized through time. But it’s not the real story…
I have come here today to tell you the story, because I was there. Sure, it was many years ago and I was just a child, but I was there nonetheless.
When I was just a little girl, I lived in a small city with my mom and dad. My father worked with metals and my mother worked in the palace.
Oh, Not for the king though… no, she worked for this crazy band of astronomers who the king had invited to live in the palace. The king wanted to make sure that he paid attention to what was happening in the world around him… so he brought in these seers and astrologers from all over the place to work for him and interpret the stars and other signs.
And my mother worked for them. Well, she cooked for them. They had very strange appetites, since they came from all sorts of different places and so it was a lot of work! Sometimes she had to prepare three different meals all in one night, just so they would each be happy!
Well, one afternoon, my mother came home flushed and hurried and anxious. My father had been hired away and was working far from home on a new temple that was being built. So it was just my mother and I. Only, she came home and started throwing clothes and our bedroll and whatever else she could find into a bag. She cursed the whole time. I didn’t know whether to laugh at her or to cry or to run away because I had no idea what was happening. But in a rush of flurry, she finished her packing and took my hand and off we went.
Evidently, these magoi… the astrologers… magi, is what you call them I think, well, anyways, these magoi had seen a new star rising. They had conferred with one another for many days and weeks until they finally decided the star was the rising of a new king far off to the West.
They marched into the throne room of the palace and demanded an audience with our King. They told him what they had seen and our King was so excited that he wanted them to personally go and seek out this new King and to bring him gifts.
The magoi were up for the adventure and began making plans for their trip. First, and most important, they spent a full week figuring out what the best gifts to take were. Then they hired camels and bought provisions for a very long trip. They hired people to ride with them to protect them from whatever dangers they might find on the road. And, they demanded that all of their servants come along.
These magoi had gotten quite used to their life in the palace. And the King probably wouldn’t have let them make this grand excursion without sending a full entourage anyways… they were going to greet a King after all!
And so, whether she liked it or not, my mother had to go too. And since she couldn’t just leave me home alone and since we had idea when my father would be returning…. I got to go too.
Since I was just a child, there was a lot of excitement about heading out on this journey. I had no idea where we were going – only that it was far from our home. The first day was a blast… by the third day, I was tired of the smell of the camels. By the end of the first week, I was cranky and wanted to go home.
My mother knew this would be a long trip, but there was nothing she could do to ease my homesickness. Until one afternoon she came up with a game for me to play. She knew that the magoi had packed with them precious gifts and so she gave me the task of finding out what each of the gifts were.
The first gift was easy. There was this rather quiet servant name Tajit who always rode in the middle of a caravan on his camel. He was always looking around nervously, as if someone was about to jump out of the bushes and rob them all. And I suppose he had good reason to be nervous because he was carrying one of the gifts. You know how I could tell? He jingled!
Tajit must not have packed his gift very well, because every time his camel took a step there was a small quiet clanking in his packs. I knew something was in there, so I made a point of following him closely, watching every time he opened his packs to check for something.
One afternoon, I walked right up to him and introduced myself. And you know what? It turns out he was pretty nice! Tajit had a little daughter back home who was just my age and so each and every question I had, he was happy to answer. It took me a few days, but I finally worked up the courage to ask what the gift was he was carrying. He motioned me over to his camel, and opened up one of the packs on the side and let me peek in. There inside were brilliant and shiny gold nuggets! Tajit took one out and let me hold it. It glimmered in the sunlight. I was surprised at how heavy they were and immediately felt sorry for the poor camel who had to carry them.
Even as a little girl, I understood the importance of what was in my hand. My father worked with metals after all! He had taken me once to the palace and showed me where his father had helped to form gold into the heads of rams and oxen on the palace walls. This was a precious gift for a mighty king and someday this very gold might be formed and shaped by someone like my own father in a beautiful palace.
Tajit leaned over and whispered… “some of the magi think that we are going to visit a mighty and powerful king… this gold is a gift for one who will rule the nations!”
Gift one down…. Two more to go.
I told my friend Tajit about my quest to discover all three of the gifts, so he gave me my next clue. There was a large woman who always sang songs at our evening campfire who was carrying the second gift.
I made it a point to sit next to this woman – Sari – that night. I had made such quick friends with Tajit, I thought this would be easy. But it turned out, Sari didn’t like little children. She ignored me for a whole week.
But after a whole week of sitting next to her and listening to her sing at night – I started to learn some of the songs she was singing. And I began to sing along. I remember the first time I sang with her she turned and stared at me with a cold and mean glare – but I kept right on singing… and she hrumphfed and went back to making her music. After another week had passed – we could be found at the campfire together every night singing and making harmony.
I could sing with Sari – but I wasn’t quite sure she would let me talk to her yet. I started out by telling her different things that I had seen on the journey that day – a lone eagle flying high above us, a beautiful purple flower… and gradually, Sari started to tell me about her life.
Sari was a priestess in the local temple. She offered sacrifices to the gods and prayed on behalf of the people. She was on this journey because of the gift that she carried.
Without having to ask, one day Sari brought with her to the campfire a small package and opened it before me. Inside was a hard substance, that I had never seen before. It was shaped into a long narrow cylinder. Sari took a coal from the fire and touched it to this rod and after a few moments, it started to smolder. Rich, amazing smells began to arise with the smoke and they were carried up to the heavens.
I looked at Sari speechless with wide eyes and she told me what it was for. When we pray, she said, “we light this incense and our prayers rise up to heaven.” Then she told me that in the place we are going, this incense is used outside of the tents and temple where their God resides. She said that this frankincense was the gift for a priestly ruler – one who would have a close connection to the God of his people.
The next week, I found the third gift… but it wasn’t on purpose. A man had died in our caravan and as we were trying to what to do, Melchid, another servant, demanded that we use some of the gifts we had brought to give the man a proper burial.
He pulled out a jar of myrrh and as we laid the servant to rest – there on the side of the road, some of the costly myrrh was gently placed between the layers of linen wrappings.
Sari helped to lead prayer and the servant’s body was placed in a hollow on the side of the mountain and covered with stones.
I wondered what kind of a gift this must be – why would such a thing be given to a king? I listened among the people that night as we ate and heard tell that some of the magoi thought that we were going to worship a healer – someone who would save his people from great tragedy. But others had a strange feeling about this star and this new king… they sensed some kind of sorrow in the future of this ruler.
Having completed my quest, the journey became much duller. Day after day we traveled. The road was very, very, very long.
Finally, we arrived outside of the city of Jerusalem and came to the palace of King Herod. A few of the magoi were chosen as ambassadors and made the climb up the steps of the palace… and the rest of us anxiously waited outside.
And we waited, and waited, and waited. I wondered if I would get to see this new king myself! How exciting would that be?!
After what seemed like an eternity, the magoi came back outside with news. There was no new king here in Jerusalem. Our magoi consulted with the Jewish scribes and they came back with word that we should try to look for the king in Bethlehem. Silly Magoi – they never really knew where they were going all along.
We arrived just outside of Bethlehem at dark. How in a town full of people would we find a king? And why was he here and not in Jerusalem. There were whispers that the king was a newly born child who would one day rule this country. The mystery of it all was very exciting and I could hardly wait with anticipation.
Suddenly everyone was looking up and in the skies I could finally see what we had been following all along. There shining faintly above us was a star. I could see it with my own eyes.
It appeared to rest above one of the houses.
We quiety trodded through the streets with our caravan. Boy were we a sight. I could see little faces peering out of windows at the camels and our wonderfully dressed Magoi.
Stopped in front of a house… it was small, tiny really. A few of the Magoi thought they should go in and see what was going on.
They came back out and were speechless… a few others rushed in and then a few more and they all came back out and had a pow-wow there in the street. I snuck up to the front of the caravan where I could hear better.
This king that they had discovered was only a baby – not more than two years old. But there was something about him – something that amazed them. They finally decided to take in a portion of each of the gifts. They wanted to see what kind of a ruler this child would be, so they decided to let him choose. If he chose the gold – he would be a mighty ruler… king of all nations. If he chose the frankincense – he would be a priestly ruler… a servant of God. If he chose the mhyrr – he would be a healer who restored his nation.
They were nervous and went in quietly. They came out stunned and empty handed.
The child had chosen all three gifts. He was a king… but he was a priest… and he would save his people.
The journey home was long – but the entire way I pondered what would happen to this child… how would he accomplish all of these things? What would his future be?
For many years I thought about that boy child in Bethlehem. The Romans continued to rule in Judea and there was no word of a new king arising… but then again – word didn’t travel very fast in those days.
Then one day, I heard word of a young man named, Jesus, who some said was the Son of God. He spoke and people listened. They came out in droves to hear him and some were healed with his touch. But he made others anxious and they had him killed by the Romans. That should have been the end of the story… but there were whispers and rumors that he lived again… that he still lives… and that he truly is a king… and a priest… and came to save his people.
Amen and Amen.