Three Kings came riding from far away,
Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;
Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star…
The star was so beautiful, large and clear,
That all the other stars of the sky
Became a white mist in the atmosphere,
And by this they knew that the coming was near
Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.
Three caskets they bore on their saddle-bows,
Three caskets of gold with golden keys;
Their robes were of crimson silk with rows
Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows,
Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.
And so the Three Kings rode into the West,
Through the dusk of the night, over hill and dell,
And sometimes they nodded with beard on breast,
And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest,
With the people they met at some wayside well.
"Of the child that is born," said Baltasar,
"Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
For we in the East have seen his star,
And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
To find and worship the King of the Jews."
And the people answered, "You ask in vain;
We know of no King but Herod the Great!"
They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
As they spurred their horses across the plain,
Like riders in haste, who cannot wait.
And when they came to Jerusalem,
Herod the Great, who had heard this thing,
Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them;
And said, "Go down unto Bethlehem,
And bring me tidings of this new king."
So they rode away; and the star stood still,
The only one in the grey of morn;
Yes, it stopped --it stood still of its own free will,
Right over Bethlehem on the hill,
The city of David, where Christ was born.
And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard,
Through the silent street, till their horses turned
And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard;
But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred,
And only a light in the stable burned.
And cradled there in the scented hay,
In the air made sweet by the breath of kine,
The little child in the manger lay,
The child, that would be king one day
Of a kingdom not human, but divine.
His mother Mary of Nazareth
Sat watching beside his place of rest,
Watching the even flow of his breath,
For the joy of life and the terror of death
Were mingled together in her breast.
They laid their offerings at his feet:
The gold was their tribute to a King,
The frankincense, with its odor sweet,
Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,
The myrrh for the body's burying.
And the mother wondered and bowed her head,
And sat as still as a statue of stone,
Her heart was troubled yet comforted,
Remembering what the Angel had said
Of an endless reign and of David's throne.
Then the Kings rode out of the city gate,
With a clatter of hoofs in proud array;
But they went not back to Herod the Great,
For they knew his malice and feared his hate,
And returned to their homes by another way.
The Three Kings is a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written in the 19th Century.
I decided to read the whole poem to you because I believe it helps us remember the story in a very full way. Magi from the East (Later tradition would make them kings) but the term really means wise men, astrologers who were watching the sky for certain signs, who made a journey, a journey into lands they did not know because of the appearance of a particular star. The importance is that Gentiles, not Jews come looking for the baby, and the baby has made the local power structure very nervous.
The wise men search for the new King but people only know of King Herod, so they follow the star, a new king is on the way, and they continue the journey until their perseverance and dare I say faith pay off and in a stable, where a lamp is lit, they find Mary & Joseph and Jesus.
It is this whole story, both miraculous and yet very much our own, that reminds us that the world that Jesus was born into, is the same world we live in now. Poverty, death, murder, political infighting, take place now as it did then. And innocent people are often caught in the middle. And into this very chaos, God interceded on our behalf; even with the power of Rome & Herod in place, God comes to us in a helpless baby in a lonely stable. The light came into the darkness.
On this day, as we remember the journey of the Magi, I think we can learn from their journey, because it is like our own faith journey. As TS Eliot put it in his Journey of the Magi: “'A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year For a journey, and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter.' (Not very different from our weather today!)
The Magi traveled together, trusted their knowledge even as they recognized that there was much they didn’t know. When in a dream they are told to go home by another way, they do it, they are willing to adjust their journey and keep being directed, led and pushed in a new direction. They are willing to adjust it together, just as they had done their whole trip.
We are invited on our journey together, to seek out the Christ child in our midst. To follow the star, the light, just as they did. To listen to what God has given to us, in Scripture & in Nature. To understand that our journey will have its ups and downs. It will not always go easy. Through prayer & reflection we may decide to go a different way, a new road. The powers that be may be against us. But together, we will find the Christ in our midst, and offer the gifts we have to give. For Christmas is more than our coming to the manger to pay homage, it is also how we give our gifts to the world in the name of the one who we follow. In the great words of Howard Thurman:
"When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make music with the heart”
May we radiate the Light of Christ, every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say. Giving the gifts that God has given to us. For it is then the work of Christmas has begun in us and our world. Amen.