Originally written for a Messy Church service storytelling slot to celebrate Epiphany
I want to tell you the story of three men who decided to leave their comfortable homes and travel a very long distance in search of…..well at the beginning they weren’t entirely sure what or who it was they were searching for? They just knew that it was so important that they set out on a new adventure.
Some people called them wise men…but I’m not so sure they were very wise to consider going on such a journey …at least not at the start. Others call them kings… In fact only one of them was a king and his name was Balthazar. He was a very kind king and looked after his wives and servants very well. His life was extremely comfortable, because he could afford to buy anything he wanted. The trouble was he had bought everything that he wanted and now he was bored!
He was also very intelligent and liked to try and find out everything about the world around him. He read loads of books and his favourite subject was history. However, he was not as clever as his best friend Melchior, who was indeed a wise man. Melchior, was also very rich and so he could spend all of his time studying the stars. That is he looked up at them at night and watched them as they moved across the sky, and during the day when the sun hid the stars he plotted their movements on his charts. Whenever Balthazar went to visit his friend he had to try and find him behind a mountain of papyrus rolls
Also living in the city was another man called Caspar, who was also a friend of the king. He was a man who thought a lot about the world – about how it was created; about who created it; about why it was created; about why he had been created! He had read all of the ancient scriptures of lots of different faiths and had come to the conclusion that there must have been a very powerful God who had done all of these things
One day Melchior, rushed into the palace when Caspar was visiting Balthazar. He was very excited and told them both to come and see what he had discovered. He spread out a large chart on the table in front of them and pointed to a small object that was separate from all of the other stars.
“I noticed it the other night…I’m sure it wasn’t there the night before! Come and see it for yourselves.
They all went back to Melchior’s house and waited…..and waited….and waited. Actually they had to wait for quite some time as it had been lunch time when Melchior had rushed to the palace and the sun needed to set before the stars would be visible…
Eventually though, when the night was very dark, they saw an incredible sight…. on the skyline a bright light was shining… it was brighter than all the other stars and seemed to twinkle and sparkle as if it was waiting for them to make a decision.
“I think I know what this means,” said Caspar, “I read about a star appearing in the sky when God wants to send a message to the world”
Balthazar and Melchior wondered how a star was going to tell them a message. Stars can’t talk after all. But they did notice that the way the star hovered over them it seemed to be saying ‘Follow me’ before it disappeared as the sun rose. Over the next few days they kept on seeing the star and each night it seemed to flicker more brightly and urgently.
Eventually they came to a decision. Caspar had reread one of the ancient books and declared that the stars appearance was because a very, very special person had been born…a prince or a king!
Melchior said that the star was moving very slowly westward, so perhaps that was where it had happened. Balthazar just thought it was the chance for a great adventure and began making plans for a journey…. and because he wasn’t sure how long that journey was going to be he packed lots of things, including gifts for whoever they were going to meet…after all it’s only polite to take a present when you go visiting.
The three men travelled for many months and days through the desert. They tended to sleep during the day when the sun was at its hottest and then set out again as the sun set and the stars began to appear; and every night the brightest star in the sky seemed to lead them onward into new lands, never stopping. Even when it was a cloudy night the light seems to glow through the clouds so that they could see where it was.
Then one day they were sleeping in their tents when some men entered their camp. They told Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar that they were King Herod’s guards and that their master would like to welcome them to his country, so they were escorted to the palace of King Herod
Now King Herod wasn’t a very nice king. He was greedy and cruel and extremely jealous of anyone who threatened his power. None of his own people were ever allowed to see him. Only the important people were allowed into his palace. So we’ve got to stay outside…
…However, Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar were allowed in. King Herod seemed very friendly to his three visitors. Apparently he asked them lots of questions about their journey, about how they had got there and where they were going. Melchior, who was very excited about how the star had led them on their journey, told Herod about his discovery and Caspar tried to explain that they were looking for a very important person, possibly a new king… Balthazar just felt uneasy.
After a while, despite all the splendour and luxury of the palace, the three men thought it would be wise to continue on their way. Especially as the star had moved on – and they had to spend three or four nights travelling very swiftly to catch up with it. King Herod had made them promise to let him know when they found the new king, so that he could come to welcome him. Balthazar thought that was one promise he really didn’t want to keep, and had kept his fingers crossed behind his back when he said they would!
After a few more days they approached the town of Bethlehem. They were only expecting to top up their food supplies and allow their camels some rest, as the city was not very grand – there were no majestic palaces, or magnificent houses within its walls; only ordinary houses, in ordinary streets. Yet the star seems to be hovering right over the town, as if it had come to a stop.
As they made their way through the twisting and winding streets, they kept asking themselves was this the place? Surely not! Yet the star was right there in the sky above them and was shedding its light onto a particularly small, very plain looking house. The three men stood in front of the wooden door
“You knock,” said Caspar
“No, you knock,” replied Melchior
“Oh for goodness sake, I’ll knock,” sighed Balthazar, as he rapped very smartly on the door. At the sound of the knock, a woman’s voice from within the house bid them to come in and so they entered the house.
At first it seemed very gloomy, then they made out a young woman sitting on a stool, with a child on her knee. Maybe it was the light from the star, or maybe it was the candle but the room seemed to glow with light and all three men fell down on their knees as they felt the presence of someone very special. It may not have been a palace, there may not have been hundreds of servants or furniture of gold and silver, but there was definitely someone royal there – a future king.
Balthazar then remembered the presents that they had brought and he laid down his gift of gold – certainly fit for a king! Melchior had some frankincense, which would be useful if he turned out to be a great priest and teacher. When Caspar hesitantly laid his gift of myrrh in front of the cradle the others were a bit confused. Surely myrrh was used when people had died.
“He may need it later on,” explained Caspar
Mary, the child’s mother, just smiled and thanked them for their gifts.
“His name’s Jesus, and Joseph, my husband and I, are very grateful. He is truly a gift from God.”
The three men bowed again and each thought that they would remember this journey and this night and this child for a very long time. As they left they knew that were all leaving wiser than when they had arrived.
Oh, and by the way – they never did tell King Herod where they had found the child. Which was just a well, as Herod did turn out to be a very, very nasty man!
The visit of the Wise Men or Magi to the Holy Family is celebrated in the Church of England as Epiphany on Twelfth Night (6th January). An epiphany is a moment of sudden and great revelation, which the wise men experienced on seeing the Christ child. Despite their names not being recorded, some traditions believe they may all have been Eastern kings – and of the three Balthazar is an alternate form of the Babylonian king Belshazzar, mentioned in the Book of Daniel.
As to whether there were only three of them, this may be an assumption from the fact that there were just three gifts mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 2:1-12); in the East, the Magi traditionally number twelve,
However many there were, they certainly didn’t arrive on the night of Jesus’ birth, as the family had relocated from a stable to a house (Matthew 2:11). It would also seem that only Mary was there at the time of the visit to her child, who was likely to have been several months old but no more than two years old (Matthew 2:16)
And the star that they followed? Now known as the Star of Bethlehem or the Christmas star, and which astronomers throughout the ages have attempted to link to unusual astronomical events, such as a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, a comet or a supernova. Whatever it was it led them to the correct place.
May Christ’s love be revealed in and through you this Christmastide!