Christmas is a story that speaks to us through many storylines. Mary learns from an angel named Gabriel that she will give birth to a child whose life will be the unsettling of the world order. Joseph, who learns that he will be a father to the child, is unsettled by the news, then (through the persuasive intervention of an angel who speaks to him in a dream) decides to embrace the child as his own. And then there are the Magi, or the wise men, or the mysterious visitors from the East. The biblical record of their role in the drama of Jesus’ birth does not tell us their names, their precise land of origin, or their number. Yet traditions over time have told us that there were three–and that their names were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Henry Van Dyke, the pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City during the nineteenth century, added to the story by writing a book called The Fourth Wise Man.
In my imagination I see the Magi (however many there may have been) traveling slowly by camel over a vast expanse to worship the Christ child and give him their gifts. In the following poem I have tried to ponder not so much the details of the external journey, but the interior journey that brought them to their destination. Perhaps it will prompt you to create your own imaginative engagement with this story as a way of deepening your encounter with the child whose name was called Jesus, and who is alive and at large in the world today with his fierce love and persistent compassion.
“These Three Kings”
They did not know one another
Any better than they knew the road
That stretched before them.
These three kings were unrehearsed
In the rigors of long journeys and
Unaccustomed to travel over great distances.
Yet the star would not take no for an answer
The inevitable had become unavoidable:
They turned their camels toward the light.
At night they warmed themselves by the fire,
Stepped out of its illumination
To confirm the star’s onward leading.
Their gifts rattled in the rough packs,
Their teeth rattled from the plodding beasts.
They hid their shaking hands
From the king who demanded obedience:
Opened their hearts to the infant king
Who welcomed their love.
They went home by another way,
Warned in a dream that saved their skins
And kept the child a holy secret:
The child whose light is now the star,
That calls us from our homelands
To the horizon of all that love makes possible.