It was time to say goodbye. There was nothing left. Enchanting stories from their childhood had left all yesterdays behind, leaving no tomorrows. Olden prophets sensationalized a REAL Jerusalem, peaceful-perfect with children dancing in the streets. That fantasized paradox never happened.
From Dan to Beersheba, cruel Romans paraded cobblestone streets; scheming tax-collectors sat at every gate; brutal atrocities against humanity had become so horrendous, they soared beyond human comprehension. Would anything ever change in the land of the Bible?
Wait! Intruding foreign pagans! Seeing their smirking faces was absolutely terrifying! Across a chivalrous chasm of stony-faced superiority, they flouted their arrogant audacity. “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
Who said?….What? Make no mistake; time stood still that shattering day in old Jerusalem. Though two thousand years removed, the retelling of their star-filled odyssey is a Christmas epic worth hearing all over again.
Bearing no pious platitudes, explanation, nor idealism, they had spanned a foreboding desert of a thousand yesterdays, a land where the cradle of humanity first rocked in the orient, where unquenchable desert thirst drove men to madness, wheresizzling sands had bleached the bones of many travelers.
Although, the clear, celestial lights over the Middle East have often filled intellectuals with awe and respect, this celestial display spoke a wealth of intellectual language these philosophical Arabs understood. Though the minds of ordinary men could never have perceived its interpretation, their awareness set into motion their destiny by a divine appointment with Eternal God.
The Lord God had indeed, included these Gentile pagans into His marvelous plans for salvation. “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.”
The Magi had gained some foreknowledge that a futuristic Jewish Messiah was expected someday in Israel. Copies of ancient apocalyptic writings had been stored in their renown Persian library standing alongside the Euphrates River. From the apocalyptic writings, carried on parchment rolls into Babylon when the Hebrews had been thrust into slavery under the King Nebuchadnezzar, they had read, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: A star shall come forth from Jacob and a Scepter shall rise from Israel.“
The celestial miracle quickened intellectual knowledge with substantial facts and awakened an overwhelming quest to honor this newborn Jewish king. Still, no precedent had ever been set before them. Traveling the desert outside their homeland would be a precarious undertaking, certainly not for the uninspired.
On the one hand, little Judea lay subjugated under the powerful hand of brutal Romans. Caravan merchants had spread news of Herod’s horrendous deeds far and wide.
On the other hand, the desert wilderness was still infested with wild jackals, hyenas, bears and leopards. Bedouins, living only by rules of the jungle, were merciless in treatment to their victims. Nevertheless, courageous faith spurred them on; no turning back.
The Magi likely joined a caravan of jovial Arabs jostling their merry way towards Egypt. For safety, desert-wise Arabs armed hundreds of slaves for walking beside their valuable “ships of the desert.” Offering protection to migratory tagalongs was an ancient Eastern custom.
It was a fine day for forging an arid desert. Several centuries before, Alexander the Great had gone to great lengths in establishing trade routes between the East and West. Leaving the centuries-old Damascus route, the Magi would have forded the Jordan River at a low-water crossing near Jericho. From Jericho, the last twenty-three miles would be climbed over steep, barren hills riddled with caves inhabited by ghastly bandits.
Rarely would one forget sighting that charming old city standing majestically upon two hills. Embedded to its very core in ancient traditions, no spot on earth appealed to the masses as this imposing city. Besieged and conquered many times, yet, at no time in history has Jerusalem ever ceased to exist.
Sweeping through the Damascus Gate, haunting hoof-steps echoed eerily over narrow cobblestone streets crowded with haggling Arabs, Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, Persians, and Romans. The drenching dust, reeking in heady spices, never settled, but hung in low, murky clouds about the sandaled feet.
Thus, the mysterious Magi approached the strangeness of a Jewish world: groups of men, passing the time of day in loud discussions as women shuffled to market balancing huge cauliflowers on top of their heads.
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
Like booming thunderclaps, this startled mystery plunged iron-fisted Romans into sobriety; shocked Jewish hierarchy speechless; then without a semblance of remorsefulness, thrust a jealous old monarch into raging insanity. Across a bladed paranoia of clueless puzzlement, tenacious commands were hurled, “Proceed to the palace.”
How would this pagan tyrant fit into the bewildering drama unfolding before his eyes? In earlier years, old King Herod would have hooted by a hint of another king usurping his authority. Not today! Suffering from a foul disease of the flesh, the appearance of these intruders jaded his jealous superstitions. Herod’s tormented mind had grown increasingly unstable from memories of heinous crimes he had committed. Human life had become cheap; hardly a day without someone being condemned to death.
There, they stood. Who would solve this mystery? “What say you?” the old king demanded an answer from Jewish Sanhedrin officials.
Threatening heresy always created dreadful fear among the Sanhedrin. Remembered rare truths offered some safety. Seven hundred years earlier, a young Jewish prophet had recorded an awesome promise. A futuristic Jewish king would appear someday, although not in David’s capital city. His appearance would take place in tiny village Bethlehem.
King Herod was in no mood for trash-talking. Beside himself with vindictive anger, he promptly dismissed his know-nothing Jewish subjects and retorted. “Go to Bethlehem! Search diligently for this new king. When you find him, return. I will come and worship him.”
Not one spurt of Latin was found in that frantic command. Yet, had the old man chosen, he could have said the whole in Latin, for King Herod was a worldly man, given to much learning.
Outside the western gate, journey weariness bore down heavy. The vivid colors of sunset had departed and gloomy shadows, from aging olive groves, blackened the valley trail. Village Bethlehem, stood atop two hills, not far, a mere five miles. Fresh water springs beside the winding trail delighted grumbling camels.
Suddenly, the Light, the same Light seen in the East, strolling in the same direction, at the same pace, the same Light that awakened understanding of Eternal God. He had been there all the time.
Hearing grumbling camels outside, Joseph welcomed the Gentiles as though he had been expecting them. There, at the foot of a cradle, they who had chosen faith to believe, knelt and worshiped the tiny Prince of Peace, the King of all kings. They found their Source of wisdom, the true Light of the world. No longer would they walk in darkness. Their search led to His Son.
Joseph and Mary joined the chanting offerings of thanksgivings to the God of Abraham. The couple was surprised by meaningful gifts of fine gold, frankincense, and choice myrrh. What could they say? Very special, indeed! Gift giving had been a long-standing tradition among the Persians.
Frankincense, the ingredient for pure incense, was burned twice each day in the Jewish Temple upon an altar that had been overlaid with fine gold. Escalating fragrance from smoldering incense was symbolic of Jewish prayers rising up into the Presence of God. And fine myrrh? An ingredients in the formula for making special holy oil, used for anointing new kings. So you see, they really were special gifts.
Being subjects of Herod’s jealous superstition, the Magi dare not tarry. Leaving a helpless Jewish nation reeling under the most horrendous atrocities ever committed against humanity, a courtly brigade of bejeweled camels strolled eastward, toward the land of rising sun where they lived.
Spanning a few years hence, another group of Gentiles would wind over the Eastern desert so they might worship at the foot of His cross on Mount Calvary. “And in His name the Gentiles will hope.”