My apologia: The one aspect of the Christmas story that has always captured my imagination was the reference to the mages that came from the Far East bringing gifts to the Christ Child. Though they actually arrived in Bethlehem about two years after the birth of Jesus, these pagan astrologers traveled great distances to honor the prophesized King of the Jews. This very short story is my attempt to capture a distant time and culture and what it must have meant for these non-Jewish men to make such a dangerous journey. In the end, their honor of the Christ Child demonstrated that the Messiah had come for all of humanity.
Balthazar stood on the ziggurat observing the star-strewn sky above him. Goose bumps covered his exposed arms due to the chill night air, but he had learned over years of studying the night sky to ignore the discomfort of the body.
Below him, the dark streets of Babylon stretched away in all directions, with only the occasional lantern of a night watchman breaking through the stygian darkness.
The other mages had either ignored him or outright laughed when he showed them the ancient scroll. Crumbling with great age, that the vellum had survived at all was proof of a miracle.
Balthazar had spent months painfully interpreting the ancient foreign tongue, his imagination afire with the scroll’s stories of dreams, visions, fiery furnaces, lions’ dens, and disembodied hands writing curses on a palace wall.
Yet, the ancient work also referred to a coming king that would be born to the Hebrews and—by the gods!—the work actually had a formula to determine the year of the coming king’s birth.
Yet, the secret of the formula lay outside of his knowledge until one day he met a scribe from Jerusalem who revealed how the ancient Hebrews determined time.
With great eagerness, he made the calculations, working on the ancient Hebrew calendar starting from when King Artaxerxes allowed a defeated people the honor of rebuilding their temple in their capital of Jerusalem and—later on—the very walls of the city itself.
When the hard-sought answer lay before him as ink on papyrus, his hand shook, but he put his excitement aside and redid the calculations a second time.
The calculation proved true even after a third attempt and the halls of the temple rang with his shouts of triumph. The gods had blessed him. The advent of the coming king of the Hebrews was so near, it may have already happened.
Hastily, he consulted oracles, read the entrails of slaughtered goats, and searched the smoke arising from a burning ass’s head, but it was all in vain. There was no further revelation.
In frustration, he turned to the stars.
After weeks of searching the night sky, the Star came to him, and he fell to his knees weeping in joy and gratitude.
The next day he prepared for his journey, two fellow mages excitedly joining him for the journey, not because they were to meet a King, but because their youthful wanderlust was to be sated in foreign lands.
“Balthazar?” one of them asked as they loaded the caravan, “I understand bringing the new king gold, but why myrrh and frankincense?”
Balthazar tested the strap on a camel. “The ancient writing says the King will be cut off. As it will be my gold that greets his birth, it will be my myrrh and frankincense that will cover him in his tomb.”
Ignoring the camel’s protest, he gave a final, sharp tug on the strap. “The sun is setting,” he said impatiently. “Say goodbye to Babylon. Tonight, we follow the star.”