Last year I wrote a popular series for Our Daily Bread’s Off The Page blog, who gave me permission to reproduce it here. The Prepare Them Room series is four monologues of Bible characters, looking at Jesus’ birth through the lens of refugees and hospitality.
The first thing you need to know is that there were more than three of us, and we weren’t all kings.
Maths always came easily to me. As a kid, I wasn’t merely top of the class, I could out-calculate the teachers. For me, it was puzzling that others found equations hard. I just looked at numbers and saw patterns; I looked at patterns and saw beauty.
Apparently, it’s unusual for a ten-year-old to find poetry in Mathematics. I said goodbye to my mother when I was eleven, thinking it was a temporary educational trip. That was ten years ago. I’ve been in the Persian palace ever since, working with some of the best minds in the world. I miss my family, but when I think of my friends back at home in metal work, facing the furnace all day, I’m thankful I get to think for a living.
As for God – I was never taught formally, I looked up at the night sky and knew.
Don’t you feel God, lying out on the roof at midnight, gazing up at diamonds on dark velvet, tracing the constellations with your finger? You can track, calculate and foretell the stars’ movements like clockwork – but then they will defy all your logic and shoot somewhere else.
Reliable, yet mysterious – the stars reflect the character of God, the intelligence of God, winking at you from the darkness.
You can feel the pull of stars on the earth. We began studying history alongside the planetary movements and lunar cycles – that’s when it gets really interesting. Each month, at full moon, the world goes slightly mad. Research it – it’s true. When Jupiter is in Leo, the level of the Euphrates waters rise; crops fail, the people revolt. A big event in world history makes for a big celestial event – or vice versa.
What comes first: God clashing the stars, so it causes people to act in strange and wonderful ways, or God foreseeing the affairs of men, and marking them in the sky?
I always thought of astronomy as a secret message from God, glittering in the dark, for those who have the patience to see. Don’t see me as merely a science student – I’m a seer, a prophet, a fortune teller who hankers after the hidden things of God.
One day, my mentor Melchior came to me with a particularly difficult equation. Normally the possible rise of a nova can take a good four days to calculate, but this calculation took months. I began to lose faith in my own ability. Eventually, I concluded it was a triple conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter. The numbers worked.
When I’d handed it over, he ran his finger across the parchment, frowning, pulling at his white beard. He looked back and forth between the star map and my calculations. Suddenly, he whooped like a child.
“You’ve cracked it, Alexander! What an amazing mind you have!” His rheumy eyes had never looked brighter. “You’ve got to come with us! I’ll tell the others you’re on the list.”
I was utterly confused.
“Thank you, but where…? That is to say, what…?”
He looked straight at me and a slow grin crossed his lips.
“But my dear Alexander, did you not know? This one’s the big one. You’ll be telling your grandchildren about this.”
That’s how I ended up on the field team, searching for the most important king in the history of the world.
Melchior had confidence Herod would help.
“This is beyond our petty kingdoms,” he reasoned. “Look at all the rulers we’ve already united in our pilgrimage! We’ve joined together to worship the King of the Heavens – and he’s supposed to be a man of religion. Of course he’ll help.”
But I watched Herod closely. He didn’t see colour of our robes and crowns, our heritage, history and intelligence; he just saw the colour of our skin, our accents, our different customs. He extended his hand in welcome, but his smile was a snarl.
I saw us through his eyes: dirty from travel; different, not part of his nation or heritage; late interlopers and critics of his rule. He was suspicious of our motives for coming. I don’t suppose generous-hearted Melchior noticed. But I did. We were hated foreigners to Herod, and our news was unwelcome.
He was no seeker of God: that much I knew. If he despised the image of God in our faces, he would also despise the true Image of God, the celestial King.
We tracked the new king down – eventually.
Our geography was not quite so good as our astronomy. You would think that a group of world-renowned natural scientists who could calculate the draconian month in any given Saros cycle, forecasting the exact hour of an eclipse with pinpoint accuracy would be able to navigate their way from Herod’s palace to Bethlehem – but, no.
To be fair, it’s more difficult to find your way by road than by sky. The way is always clearer when you look up rather than at your feet.
After going door to door, quizzing wary mothers on the precise time of their child’s birth, we came across a tiny house – barely a shack, really, a mere wood cabin on the outskirts of town.
A young mother was playing with the child in the dirt, laughing. Our hearts quickened, and our pace increased. We knew as soon as we saw them together.
She had nothing, plainly, but she welcomed us in and gave what she had. We poured our sparkling riches into her dry and dirtied hands.
We all crammed in to see what the heavens had been heralding. It was a tiny boy, chubby and gurgling, his face streaked with mud.
We’d found him, at last – and I would indeed tell my grandchildren about this. But who would have thought the King of Heaven would be so earthy?
Tweetables:'But who would have thought the King of Heaven would be so earthy?' - @Tanya_Marlow on the astrologists of the nativity: Click To Tweet 'Reliable, yet mysterious - the stars reflect the character of God' - @Tanya_Marlow on the astrologists of the nativity: Click To Tweet 'I’m a seer...a fortune teller who hankers after the hidden things of God.' - @Tanya_Marlow on the astrologists of the nativity: Click To Tweet 'Are you a seeker of God if you despise the image in foreign faces?' - @Tanya_Marlow on the astrologists of the nativity: Click To Tweet
Over to you:
- “If he despised the image of God in our faces, he would also despise the true Image of God, the celestial King.” How does this challenge us as we prepare for Christmas?
- “But who would have thought the King of Heaven would be so earthy?” How easy do you find it to picture God as human?
For further reading – memoirs about a Christian response to refugees:
– Shawn Smucker – Once We Were Strangers. Check it out here
– DL Mayfield – Assimilate or Go Home. Check it out here
Beautiful children’s book retelling the nativity through the lens of Mary and Joseph as Refugees
– Anne Booth and Sam Usher – Refuge. Check it out here
AND – If you liked this story, you’ll love Those Who Wait by Tanya Marlow – following the life of four Bible characters who wrestled with waiting. Check it out here.