As Yoshi finished, Sara became aware of Joseph standing next to her, also listening, but keenly aware of the urgent needs of the event which was nearing its end. “Why was John still absent?” she wondered. On any other night she would have been worried by now, since persecution of the followers of Jesus had become more overt and intense as of late, but tonight there were just too many other things to be concerned about. “He will be home soon,” she assured herself aloud.
The guests in her home, who had settled into positions around the low tables spread throughout the hosting areas for the meal, were now sharing in conversation about the story they had heard, and in the desserts that the servants had begun to pass around from table to table.
Another round of wine was being served as John burst through the door, and a broad smile broke across his face as he surveyed the houseful of friends and family. He was greeted by the buzz of excited conversation. It took only seconds to locate Sara, who had always easily attracted his eye. She was totally engaged in sharing her gifts of hospitality with this houseful. How easily she distributed the resources to the needs.
Once she had time to take a breath, Sara looked toward the door to see who had come in. There was her John, staring at her as she often caught him doing, his thoughts lost somewhere in his mind. She and Joseph got to John at the same time, Sara asking questions and Joseph wanting to wash the dust off the feet of his master. John waved off both of them and took Sara by the hand, drawing her to the door. “I have a surprise,” he said, hardly able to contain his excitement. John’s statement was punctuated by the snorting of a horse just outside the door. Sara looked at John, completely baffled. He laughed as he opened the door and motioned for her to step outside.
As Sara stepped into the cold and her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit street, she realized it was full of people and animals. Closest to the house was the horse that she had heard, and being helped off of it was an older man, about 70, she thought. Behind him were a number of camels and donkeys laden with supplies and packages. She looked back toward John for some sort of explanation, but he had already stepped toward the horse to help the new visitor, who was soon bowing before her.
In the brighter light of her porch lanterns she realized now that this was not just any old man. He was robed elegantly, and his white hair and long white beard framed his wrinkled face. The number of guards and servants with him were beyond a quick counting. “Honored lady,” he said as he bowed again, “I am Melchior, of the Persian plains. Would you honor me by allowing your humble servant entrance to your home?” His eyes now met hers and she could not help but notice that the deep-seated light, clearly evident in the eyes of Mary, Omi, and Yoshi, was sparkling out of his as well. Sara found herself bowing, and, though it was not customary to allow a Gentile into your home, she beckoned Melchior to enter while John and Joseph tried to find accommodations for his entourage.
When someone like Melchior enters any room of people, they draw all attention to themselves just by the very nature of who they are. The previously noisy house was now so quiet you could hear the crackling of the fire. Other servants took Joseph’s place in washing his feet and taking his outer cloak ,and soon Melchior was led toward a seat not far from Mary. When he saw her, he stopped, and prostrated himself before her on the floor. She rose quickly and took his hands. “Melchior,” Mary pleaded, “Rise. Sit. Eat and drink. We are both servants of the same Lord, you and I, and in light of all you have done for us, I should be bowing before you.”
Melchior reluctantly rose to his knees and was helped to his seat, but his eyes never left Mary’s. Without any coaxing he began relating the encounter with Jesus on his birthday. “Though nearly half a lifetime ago, I can remember every detail,” he began, speaking in Greek, the common tongue.
“I am a member of the counsel of the wise and my life has been consumed with trying to understand the complexities of the created order of things. I have spent most of my energy focused on the lights of the universe. There is great majesty and beauty in the night skies, and on rare occasions, a conjunction of the lights in the sky announces a special event. It is the belief of the counsel that these events are not events of chance, but omens of things of great significance, planned at the beginning of time by God himself. I know that this is foreign, and for some of you, evil. Please forgive me and allow me to continue.” His eyes were still on Mary and she nodded her approval. No one was going to counter her will that night.
“Months before Jesus’ birth the entire counsel was excitedly discussing the upcoming conjunction of Jupiter, the king of planets, with the moon, while traveling through the constellation of Judea. There was only one possible explanation for this conjunction – a king of great significance for the Jews was to be born soon. Three of us decided to make the trip to Judea to see if we might see the newborn king and honor him with gifts. We timed our departure as to arrive in Judea about the time of conjunction.
“Approaching Judea, we naturally headed for Jerusalem, assuming that a king would be born to the royal family within the Jewish community. We were surprised to find that no one there had any immediate knowledge of his birth. We had arrived later than we had hoped and by now, certainly, his birth would have been announced. I’m afraid that our arrival had caused quite a commotion in the city, and eventually the Roman ruler, Herod, heard of our mission and granted an audience with us. After a query of his historical scholars it was discovered that the birth of a king had been foretold centuries ago, and that this king would be born in Bethlehem, a small town not too distant from Jerusalem whose only real claim to fame was that David, Israel’s most revered king, had also been born there. As we prepared for our departure for Bethlehem, Herod sent a message asking that we return and inform him of the exact location of the child so that he also could send gifts of worship.
“We arrived in Bethlehem, just as the second conjunction was occurring, to find the town still buzzing with excitement over the events of many nights before. Though the required census time had long passed, many visitors had stayed in town to discuss the strange and wonderful reports widely circulated by shepherds from the surrounding area. We had little trouble finding the house where the family had settled for the time being, whose stable cave reportedly was where the king actually had been born.” He smiled at Omi. Though they had not seen each other in over 30 years, the bond forged by sharing that event was undeniable.
“Upon receiving permission to enter the house, we brought our gifts to the family, marveling at how humbly a king, whose birth the heavens so clearly declared – not once, but twice – should be born and raised. Little did we know then what has become clear now to some of us, that his kingdom was not to be of this earth and time, but one that will be forever and will encompass the entire world. Our gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, though highly valued among men, were mere trifles in light of his station. We have become increasingly humbled to have been a small part of his earthly story, which I join you to celebrate tonight, thanks to the vision of our mutual friends.”
Melchior had been quite solemn of face and voice as he had told his story, but now broke into a smile as he clapped his hands loudly, startling those closest to him. He laughed as they reacted, and the door burst open with servant after servant, led by a broadly smiling Joseph, entered the house laden with boxes of gifts, seemingly without number. Melchior’s laughter grew to fill the room as the surprised looks on the surrounding faces changed to joy, and a clamor oohs and ahhs replaced the once-prevailing silence. There were gifts for everyone from the exotic lands to the east, and the servants did their best to explain, in the common tongue, their origin and use. The celebration continued for the better part of the next hour, but finally… reluctantly… the guests began to take their leave with an abundance of hugs and thank you’s to John and Sara, and Melchior, who was still smiling and chuckling with an energy that defied his advanced age.
This has been a wonderful night, Sara thought as she shut the door behind the final departing guest. She turned to face the inside of her home and survey the cleaning work being done by the combined efforts of her and Melchior’s servants. John could not have given her a better present than this to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Her thoughts passed back over her life and the many things she had experienced that would seem unbelievable to those who only heard of them. She had personally shared in Jesus’ life, had witnessed his death, and had been overjoyed with all the others at his resurrection. She had been standing there, with John, watching Jesus disappearing into the clouds, and was also there when his Holy Spirit was revealed with power and they all began speaking in languages they had never learned. She and John had been blessed with three beautiful children, each of them wonderful gifts from God, and now she could add this night, the first celebration of Jesus’ birthday, to her list. What more could one person ask for out of life? “Nothing,” she prayed in thanksgiving.