Imagine a kingdom far away, across the Arabian Desert, thousands of years ago. Both the culture, and the reach of its influence had declined. Babylon was no longer an effective military power. Yet, there were still some scholars who studied the ancient manuscripts, and mapped the stars. They were from a royal class called Magi, or astrologers, truth seekers who searched the heavens for a sign, a clue that would connect with ancient prophecies about the birth of a new King. Some Jewish captives during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign had intrigued them with songs and stories, sharing their sacred writings about a future Messiah who would come and deliver them, and restore the kingdom of Judah. “A star would rise in Jacob, a ruler in Israel”.
Imagine their astonishment when they saw a new star that outshone all others. It drew them into its fiery circle, calling them to distant unknown worlds. They wondered if this vision was as urgent in its beauty as it was in its power to lead them from their native country. This happened around 6 BC, and they concluded they had been privileged to witness such an auspicious moment in their lifetime.
Imagine the length and breadth they had to travel, the number of servants and camels that would carry them and their chosen gifts. Across the trackless Arabian Desert they came, these heroes of faith, believing they would find the one whose star had overtaken the sky. These noble foreign travelers, braving desert windstorms and lonely cold nights, would journey for almost two years before they reached the land of the Jews.
Imagine their joy when they saw the gates of Jerusalem, and the glittering temple come into view. They had arrived among his people now, and sensed how close they were to finding him. As they inquired at the court of Herod’s Palace, a crowd of onlookers began to gather in amazement at seeing this huge entourage of men camels, dressed in ornate Eastern finery. But it was their question that really astounded them, and sent the scribes searching their scrolls for an answer. The Magi bowed before Herod, the Roman puppet King, and humbly asked, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We have seen his star as it arose, and have come to worship him!”
Imagine how these words cut like knives into the heart of this sly fox. Herod pretended to be interested and even called a meeting of religious leaders to ask, “Where is the Messiah to be born?” They quoted from the prophet Micah who said he was to be born in Bethlehem. So Herod sent the visitors on their way with a forked-tongue proviso, “When you have found him, come and tell me so that I may worship him also.”
Imagine how the city of Jerusalem had been stirred by this visitation. It gave some people hope, and made others afraid. Herod was enraged and publicly humiliated. His power and position had been threatened by the simple announcement of these foreigners. Jewish scholars were amazed and disturbed by their questions. Why hadn’t they foreseen the star, the prophecy, the coming of Messiah, the birth of their King?
Imagine the sorrow of these Magi when they heard news of innocent children being slaughtered by Roman soldiers, just as they leaving. Warned by an angel in a dream not to report their findings to Herod, they now understood his murderous intention to hold onto a politically fragile throne. But their mission had been successful, and their gifts had been received. How privileged they were to spend joyful hours with the child Jesus and his parents, learning all they could about him. They were returning home with heavy hearts, as they pondered the future of this child king whose arrival had already made such vicious enemies, even though his life had barely begun.