Today is Christmas Eve, and my heart is full of thanks and joy. We spent the evening at church, delivering cookies to friends and neighbors, and watching a Christmas movie. We opened one round of presents, and now we’re waiting to celebrate the Birthday of our King.
Most people get their last chance to play a part in a Christmas pageant when they’re in grade school. By the time you’re in sixth grade, you’ve hung up your shepherd and wise man costumes for good. This year our church offered monologue opportunities to a select few, and I snapped up the chance. “I’d love to be a wise guy,” I e-mailed rapidly. “I wouldn’t mind being Joseph or Simeon, and in a pinch, I’d take Herod.”
They let me be a wise man, and gave me 4 minutes in both the Christmas Eve services. I dressed up in a robe, with a piece of golden cloth from our friend Tina as a rich accessory, and borrowed leather sandals (I couldn’t find mine). I decided to forgo the turban, since it seemed to require a 30′ long piece of cloth, and a lot of patience in assembling. One of our elders did a first-person monologue as Herod, and another talked to us about Mary. One of our pastors told us about the lessons Joseph’s life taught, and our senior pastor focused on Jesus himself (senior pastors are sometimes greedy that way).
Here is my monologue — I offer it up to my Lord as a birthday present:
Salaam aleikum. I am Melchior, one of the Magi who came from the east to worship the new Jewish king.
My colleagues and I spend our lives in the study of the skies. Over the years, weâ€™ve developed many elaborate theories about the meanings of these stars and planets, and the times of their appearance â€¦ truth is, Iâ€™ve never been very sure about many of our conclusions.
One thing we all could see plainly: this new star was in the part of the sky that indicated a major event in the House of Jacob, among the Jewish people who lived northeast of Egypt, near the Western Sea.
We argued about it for a long time, my companions and I, but we finally agreed that the appearance of this new star must indicate the birth of a king. One of us suggested a wild plan: we could send a delegation to find and meet this new king.
I knew immediately that I had to be one of those who were sent. We planned our journey and selected gifts that we could bring, items of value that would help to make us welcome in foreign lands. One selected gold (always a good choice) and another frankincense (preferred by royalty). I had some difficulty deciding what to give to a Jewish king, but I settled upon high quality myrrh, a valuable resin made from the sap of a thorny tree in our region. Iâ€™ll admit it was an odd and somewhat sinister gift for a new king, most often used in burial rituals.
We set off in a caravan, following the star whenever we could see it, heading west toward the Trans-Jordan area. Arriving at last in Jerusalem, we discreetly asked about the new king, but soon came to the attention of Herod, the brutal, half-breed Jewish king appointed by the Romans to rule over that area.
I must say, I was worried. Here we were, far from home, with a minimal escort, telling an uneasy ruler about a potential threat to his throne. He seemed unaware of any new prince, and our hearts sank. Had we come all this way for nothing?
When Herod summoned the priests, our hope was renewed. Their scriptures indicated that the king would be born in a small village just south of Jerusalem. Herod sent us on our way, with apparent good will, encouraging us to search diligently for the child and to tell him all about this new king, â€œso he too could come and worship himâ€.
Iâ€™ve got to say, I never believed him. Sure, a king has his dignity, and heâ€™d look foolish searching the countryside on a rumor â€¦ but I couldnâ€™t help thinking that the only â€˜worshipâ€™ this new king would receive from Herod would be at the tip of a spear.
As we approached the village of Bethlehem, the star was once again revealed, and it moved so that it stood over a particular house. Not a palace, just a simple house, with a peasant family living inside. There was a work table and a few tools, a man, a woman â€¦ and a little boy child, toddling about.
I could hardly believe my eyes; was this the king that weâ€™d come so far to find? But the star weâ€™d seen and followed had moved, and clearly indicated this house â€¦ so this must be Him. I felt a certainty, welling up in my heart, an ability to believe that had never gripped me before: this was the king, and more than a king, foretold by the star.
We prostrated ourselves as though the child was the Roman emperor, and offered our gifts to the boy and his parents. As they told us the story of his birth, the things that had been told them by angels, and what the shepherds saw and heard, I came to understand that this was no earthly king. Rather, in the body of this little boy-child, God â€¦ had come to live among us.
The night before we had planned to leave, we each had a dream, sent by God. He told us not to trust Herodâ€™s intentions toward the child, and to go home another way, not by passing through Jerusalem. We felt very honored and overwhelmed by Godâ€™s kindness to us, showing us a small part of His plan and confirming that this child really was sent by Him. We made our way home, filled with joy and wonder.
In these ten years since we visited Bethlehem, Iâ€™ve often wondered about that boy, as he grows up, thinking about what he will do. I still watch the skies for further signs, and I eagerly question travelers from that area. Back home, our story was met with skepticism by those who didnâ€™t journey with us, but I believe that God has come among us, and is working out His plan among the Jewish people. I was there, and I believe.