Sometimes I wish that Balthasar
Had not been gazing when that star
Appeared, so many years ago.
We were younger then and bold, though
Not so rash as to dash our lives
For sudden changes in the skies.
But nightly we watched their motions.
Their dance soon cast out all notions
Of conjunctions we expected.
This was new. Old, too: predicted!
A Magi six hundred years past-
Daniel, the Hebrew unsurpassed,
In wisdom great, and said to be
Possessed by the Spirit of God:
Israel’s God, Yahweh the Only.
Daniel wrote of a coming king
Whose throne would end all suffering,
A king to rule all human clans
Somehow from God and yet from man.
He’d crush those kings who’d not submit
And heal those humbled to the pit.
Meek as lambs; strong as a lion.
Strangest truth: His throne in Zion.
“Israel” We spat at the name!
Haughty hypocrites laying claim
To chosen status: God’s people.
“Never! All nations are equal”,
We’d say, by silencing the doubts
Gnawing at our hearts with proud shouts.
But what if? What if the Saviour
Was Jewish? Should our behaviour
Towards that old, ancient nation
Keep us from our own salvation?
Should we then make an enemy
Of God? Rather an embassy
Of peace, gifts of royal treasure
To secure his heart and pleasure.
If we needed confirmation
His grace surpassed expectations
And wrote on the parchment of sky.
Regulus, the king of stars with
King Jupiter the planet fifth.
A king’s king in constellation
Leo, sign of Daniel’s nation.
Thus the unforeseen decision:
We gathered goods, made provision
For the months we would journey west.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh, our best
Gifts safely in our camels’ sacks;
Soldiers, hunters, guides on their backs.
I will not lie: the road was hard,
The nights cold, the way often barred,
The inns dirty, the towns unkind,
The desert highways hard to find.
Caspar tried cheering us with rhymes
“Philosopher on camel’s hump
Is sure to come down with a thump!”
Truth in jest. We were just magi,
Not explorers. The weeks went by.
We could not agree what to say
To Herod the King on the day
We arrived. It was suicide
To ask a king to be our guide
To the king we sought.
But where else to begin, we thought,
But Jerusalem, the same place
Daniel foresaw Messiah’s grace?
Herod feigned his humble interest.
Beguiled we were, and soon dismissed
The warning in our hearts. He called
For the rabbinic crew who hauled
Their scrolls, and with ceremony,
Read the prophet’s testimony.
Micah, I think it was, who said
His birthplace is the House of Bread:
Bethlehem, a town one hour south.
Herod’s heart was dark, but his mouth
Spoke of his unannounced visit
To worship. Fools! Who can match wits
With a fox? Naive stargazers
cannot read those men like razors
who rule in palaces. We thanked
Herod, spurred camels south and banked
our hopes on more clear providence.
Our hearts soon leaped, we laughed aloud:
the star we’d seen now pointed south!
To come this far, the end in sight –
my heart was racing, my chest tight.
The town was small, the houses rough.
We knocked on doors and soon enough
We learned about a recent birth.
The house was small and hardly worth
A second glance. “Strange home”, thought I,
“To bear and raise the king most High.”
We entered in, lanterns aflame.
I know not how, but more light came.
In that moment, the room aglow,
Within my heart I came to know
The deeper meaning of this shame.
The light burst on my consciousness
Of course salvation must be thus:
To be rich he must first be poor;
To taste reward he must endure
The pain of God’s condemnation
Before he knows commendation.
If he would reign he must first serve,
He must refuse what he deserves;
Accept the scorn he has not earned
To purchase back what man has spurned.
To conquer pride, the king will kneel.
He’ll carry weakness so as to heal.
Our greed he’ll kill by giving all
Our hate he’ll quell by loving more.
To master death, the Son will die.
The King of Kings, Lord God Most High.
This I saw in the broken walls
The meagre food and dirty floors,
The weary couple, faces thin
The infant child of tender skin.
I confess I forgot my speech
My throat was tight, my knees were each
Without strength and I fell, offering
What I had, for so great a king.
Long I lay, in sweet surrender
To Israel’s God whose tender
Mercies fed us, the ‘dogs’ with crumbs
From Zion’s table, and who comes
To Him He will cast out never.
That night we slept: God, our Father,
In dreams warned us and rather
Than go to Herod, we escaped
His eye another way and scraped
Our way home.
But now this birth became a death.
Deaths, for those who’d only drawn breath
For less than two years. How many tears
Were shed that week and our worst fears
Came to pass. Our regret may not
Ever be soothed, the pain forgot,
Though it was Herod’s sin, his blot.
But the other death was now ours.
We weren’t those who’d left the towers
Of Persia with its religion,
No longer men who tried to win
The favour of a foreign Lord
With gifts. We’d lost, and found reward.
We were dead and at last alive.
Our home was now an idol’s hive,
Our family were but strangers now,
Our culture’s gods we’d disavow.
Yes, sometimes I wish Balthasar
Had not been gazing at that star.
But all such thoughts are soon expelled
And with the truth my heart is quelled.
“What will a man give in exchange
For his soul?” Nor is it strange
To lose your life for Him and find
You now can see, who once were blind.
David de Bruyn
(with HT to Eliot and Piper)