The severe knocking on the heavy, wooden front door woke Polassar-Marduk even in his back-room personal quarters. Through his haze of sleep his blood chilled upon hearing such heavy pounding in the middle of the lightless night.
The king’s having another silly dream, thought Marty, as we’ll call him. Marty was on retainer to the Parthian king. Marty was a Magi, an advisor who specializes in interpreting dreams.
The king’s probably dreaming again that he’s running naked through the streets, Marty cynically thought. With advancing age the old monarch was growing increasingly paranoid with fear of succession … or bloody usurpation.
When you’re at the beck and call of the king — who can do anything at any time on any kind of whim — a knock on your door can be for anything. It can even be a death knell.
The persistent knocking finally roused Marty’s wife. “Aren’t you getting up?” she mumbled as the children remained sleeping. “I’m getting up,” Marty complained, “I’m getting up.”
To his surprise, Marty did not find the king’s men at his door but rather the servant boy of the old Magi Kishar-Nabu. He still kept to the old ways, and he spent his nights awake and out on his patio gazing at the stars. Marty had spent some of his boyhood nights with him while under his tutelage.
“Master says come quickly,” said the breathless Enlil who’d obviously ran all the way.
“What’s wrong?” Marty asked with a mixture of aggravation and curiosity.
“Something’s in the sky,” the boy huffed. “Master wants you to see it. Now. He doesn’t know how long it will stay.”
To get me up this late, Marty thought, it had better be a god descending from heaven.
Marty paid little attention to the stars. Though Magi traditionally were known for reading the stars, when going into consultations with his fellow Magi on the king’s dreams Marty preferred to stick to the old stories, the old traditions, for interpretations.
He felt that there was always something that a Magi had heard, something somebody had read, that the group could aptly use to explain to the king what he had seen in his sleep.
Kishar-Nabu did not even glance aside as Marty was escorted by the boy onto the patio. “It’s a sign. It’s a sign,” the old Magi said with some drama. He pointed to a new star, brighter than even the morning and evening stars.
“What do you make of it?” asked the elder Magi as he turned finally to make eye contact. Marty just shrugged.
A few more Magi arrived. Kishar-Nabu finally told the puzzled witnesses that he would call for a meeting of all of the Magi in the morning.
The meeting dismissed after some discussion, argument and confusion. The break would provide time for exhaustive research of the old writings.
When the convocation reconvened Kishar-Nabu brought a conclusion. “This is a star of a new king,” he pronounced. By his logic, the star pointed to a people called the Judeans.
The Parthians were aware of distant Judah to the west. There were even stories of a Judean, Daniel, during the old Babylonian days who was a great courtier and considered a forerunner of the Magi.
“We must go there, to Judea,” Kishar-Nabu concluded. He insisted on an expedition to investigate and, if true, pay homage.
This dropped onto the assembly like a bombshell. The Magi proceeded to debate for months in a number of sessions, rehashing the research and conjecture.
Marty felt his pulse rise as he was drafted to accompany the old Magi on the journey. “We need you to keep Kishar-Nabu and the others safe,” a confidante from Marty’s generation whispered to him. “And to keep them from making fools of themselves.”
Though the modern song says three kings came from the Orient, and tradition even gives them names, Scripture does not specify that there were only three Magi. And it does not list their names.
On the contrary, it was quite an impressive caravan that struck out from Ctesiphon. When the group approached the Euphrates River, Marty convinced his elders to rest in camp for several days. Marty was nervous about crossing the historic river that served as the de facto boundary of the fearsome Roman Empire.
Though there had been more than 30 years of nervous peace with the Romans, Marty knew he was crossing into hostile territory. And into a new world.
The Romans would not understand their mission, Marty knew. And he knew the Romans could turn on them in a moment.
They were surprised to learn in Damascus, the eastern capital, that Judea had a long-tenured king already, Herod. And there was no word of a successor. In fact, the Magi were horrified at the stories of Herod’s murders of his sons/successors and even his wife.
Jerusalem was smaller and less impressive than the Magi had imagined. They expected ridicule when they made inquiries at the palace. But to their surprise Herod’s guards found them that evening in their camp outside the eastern gate and informed them that they had an appointment with the king early the next morning.
Herod rose from his throne to cheerfully encourage the Magi to rise from their prostrations and speak with him conversationally. With the king’s own advisers standing silent and off to the side, Herod himself asked for their story and asked many questions.
After consulting with his own people in private, Herod returned with two guards and gave the visitors directions to Bethlehem, a village only a couple of hours away. The Parthians had never heard of it.
“As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him,” Herod said a little too sweetly.
They’d break camp in the morning, the Magi responded.
If Jerusalem was a disappointment, dirty Bethlehem had the travelers bewildered. Had they had misunderstood the directions?
“Marty. Marty!” Enlil rushed over. Marty had already bedded down in camp for the night.
And there it was. Again, the star. Overhead. This time a shaft of light beamed down into the village.
The men quickly dressed and hurried into town, leaving the servants in the camp with the tents and camels.
The star beam led them to a house on the south side. The Magi wondered how the old, rickety walls could stand.
Though manger scenes at Christmastime regularly include Wise Men, Scripture says the holy family was in a house by this time. Some months had passed since the hurried birth of the child in an inn’s stable.
The man who answered the door stood silent and rigid as the oddly dressed strangers hastily recounted their story. The man at the door seemed as if he were debating whether to shut and bar the door or chase the strangers off.
“Joseph, let them in,” a young, sweet voice finally came from inside.
In the middle of the dark night — the light from the star had disappeared as quickly as it had come — the men from the east told their story. Then the couple from up north told theirs. The stories and the questions stretched for hours.
Marty felt like a kid listening to fables in the dead of night. And he kept staring at the baby, who kept dozing on and off amid the murmur of conversation that included strange words like star, king, even angels.
Marty thought. All of these fantastic things they keep saying about this child. Are they serious? Is this child who they’re saying he is?
One of them had gone back to camp and returned with the gifts. They had held back from Herod a moneybag of gold and vials of frankincense and myrrh. Marty noted the irony, as myrrh was funeral perfume.
Marty turned his attention back to the sleeping child. If there is anything to what these people are yakking about, he thought, I may be looking into the face of God.
Stephen Harris sends this fictional short story to you and yours as a Christmas gift from State Road. Merry Christmas.