Star Led

I, Melchior, Lord of Karabakh, give greetings to all who may read these words.

I have grown old here in these mountains. I have tried my best to rule and guide my people and I hope that some of them at least may look upon me with affection rather than fear. Life here is hard and ruled by the seasons. It is as unchanging as the mountains themselves. But once, many years ago, something extraordinary happened, something that brought me to leave these mountains and make a great journey. To this day, I am not sure what I saw or what it meant but I wish to set down a true record of this journey before I die, so that this great event may not be entirely forgotten.

I was born with a curious and inquisitive mind. I want to know things. I dabble in all kinds of different affairs like a magpie. I have collected books and scrolls and papers of all kinds. I buy them from traders and merchants who pass this way. The house is full of them and I doubt I will live long enough to read them all. My wife teases me that I am trying to collect every book in the world. I nod and smile but I never actually admit that this is indeed my true ambition. My chief interest, however, is not any earthly book but rather the book of the heavens, the night sky and the unfailing stars. I am fascinated by these points of light above us. I am not one of those poor fools who think the stars control our lives. Not at all. I am intrigued by the stars themselves. I ask myself, what they are made of, where they are, why they are there. I know I will never answer these questions but it pleases me greatly to search for any answer at all. It is very rare that I go to bed without spending some time gazing into the darkness above.

It was nearly forty years ago towards the end of summer. I was looking toward the west beyond the Seven Sisters when suddenly and without warning a great light filled the sky. I have never seen anything like it before or since. Larger and brighter than any star, it dominated the heavens. It was so bright that my wife and hundreds of other people left their beds to come and gaze on this wonder. It stayed there all night. Even in the light of day, it could be faintly seen and next night it was as bright as ever. My wife suggested that it might be a new star being born. She may be right. She usually is.

I was convinced that this sign had some meaning for us. In the ordinary run of things, the stars have no influence on us at all but surely this was something special and must signify some special event. I searched my writings and eventually I found these words:-

The people that live in darkness have seen a great light.
On them that lived in a land of deep shadow a great light has shone.

These were written hundreds of years ago in Hebrew by a great poet and holy man of the Jews. His name was Isaiah.

The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that these words were connected to the new star. Some great thing must be happening in Judaea, the land of the Jews, and this great light was a message to all who would try to understand it. I was determined to make my way to Judaea and see for myself. My wife and family thought I was mad but my mind was set upon this journey. So it was that in the autumn of that year, I set out with four good men of my household on the long road to Judaea.

I made my way out of the high hills and across the flat lands of Mesopotamia. After many days travel, we reached the famous city of Palmyra. I had never imagined such a place could exist. Vast beyond my understanding, rich and powerful, stone houses, shops, temples, inns, it made my home in Karabakh seem poor and tiny in comparison. I marvelled at the sights and took shelter in one of the many inns in the city.

That night the star was easy to see and there was much talk about it among the travellers and traders who filled the courtyard of the inn. Gradually they all went to their beds, all except me and one old man clutching a battered scroll. He looked at me warily and then said:-

Do you know what this star means, my friend?

No, I replied, but I am travelling westward to find out.

So am I, said the old man. Are you by any chance going to the land of the Jews?

And he held open the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

We talked long into the night. We had both reached the same conclusion and we were both determined to test it for ourselves. His name was Balthazar and he had come further than I. His home was in India in the city of Pattala on the banks of the fabled river Indus. Long ago, one of his forefathers had come to the Indus valley in the army of the great Alexander but he had never gone back home to Macedon. He had fallen in love with an Indian girl and married her. Balthazar was their descendant. Like me, he studied the stars and like me, he found it impossible to rest until he had travelled to Judaea to see for himself what this star might mean.

We journeyed on together, always setting the direction of each day’s travel by the position of the star the previous night. Eventually we came to Amman, the last town before the Fords of Jordan. In the inn that night, we met a very interesting young man. He was an African from the Mountains of the Moon in Ethiopia. His name was Caspar. We spoke briefly with him at first but later when we heard him reading from the scroll of Isaiah, we spoke at greater length. Next morning the three of us rode on together to the Fords.

The Jordan is not much of a river but it marks the boundary between the desert and the crowded land of Judaea. We rode through Jericho, the oldest town on the face of the earth, and on up the long climb to Jerusalem. Balthazar had convinced us that this light, this star must announce the birth of some great man, a new king for the Jews perhaps. He had pointed out how often Isaiah speaks of a saviour who will be bring God’s truth and peace to the world. He was certain the star would lead us to this child of God. So when we reached Jerusalem, he asked the guards at the city gates where we might find the new King of the Jews. This was not a successful opening ploy. We found ourselves taken, under armed guard, into the presence of Herod, the existing King of the Jews.

Even far away in Karabakh, we had heard of Herod. He had seized the throne by any means at his disposal and hung on to it with ruthless determination. No one was safe from him. Even his own wife had been put to death. I began to doubt I would ever see the hills of home again. Herod slouched in a chair, dark haired, dark eyed and wary as a cat. He asked us what we meant by asking about a new king in his kingdom. Balthazar, being the oldest, took up the tale and explained why we had come to Jerusalem. Herod heard us out in silence then issued an order to one of his guards to find Shimon and bring him to us at once. I fully expected Shimon to be the court executioner but he turned out to be the high priest, who swept in self-importantly, attended by a flurry of scribes and secretaries.

Tell me, drawled Herod, where will this Messiah of yours be born?

A muttered conference took place among the scholars. I began to breathe a little easier. Somehow this did not seem like the prelude to execution.

The high priest eventually turned to Herod and replied.

Your Majesty, according to the prophet Micah, the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.

Bethlehem!, said Herod and then turned to us. That isn’t very far, just a short journey in fact. I suggest you make your way there and see what you can find. Make sure, though, if you do find any new king or saviour or what have you, you come straight back and tell me all about it. I would very much like to go and worship him myself. Off you go.

He spoke lightly enough but his eyes were hard and cold, his face fixed without any flicker of a smile. I was very glad when the guards led us out of the presence of this terrible little man.

And that was it. We were free to go, for now at any rate, even though Herod’s veiled threat still hung over our heads. We made our way south toward Bethlehem. It was now late evening and the star was shining almost directly above us. We were now increasingly sure that our journey was nearing its end. I was filled with excitement and anticipation, even though Herod’s words nagged at me like toothache.

By the time we reached Bethlehem it was fully dark. The only inn in Bethlem is on the right as you enter the town. Just beside it is a shed or outbuilding of some sort. The light of the star seemed to shine directly into it. We got down from our mounts and looked inside. There was a young couple with a baby. They did not seem at all surprised to see us. They might almost have been expecting us and they made us very welcome. We explained why we had come and Mary, the young mother, told us she was very glad we had taken such trouble and she hoped were not disappointed at what we had found. I assured her that I had never been more pleased with the result of any journey. The whole shed seemed filled with peace, joy and goodness.

Old Balthazar opened the pouch he always carried and, bowing down to the baby, he laid a bag of gold coins at his feet.

I bring gold, he said, for the King of Kings.

I brought out the most valuable item I had with me, a box of pure Arabian frankincense that I had bought from a merchant in Edessa. I too bowed and laid it at the baby’s feet.

I bring frankincense, I said, for the Son of God.

Caspar stood silently for a few moments then drew out a box of dark wood, chased in silver. He opened it and the perfume filled the whole building. He knelt down and touched the floor with his forehead.

I bring myrrh, he said, for the man whose heart will hold the sorrows of the world.

Nothing else was said. I am sure to this day that the baby smiled and lifted his hand to us but I know that could not have been possible. After some time, we took our leave and found a bed in the inn. Our search was over.

I did not sleep well. My dreams were filled with images of Herod, raging, furious, blood soaked. There was also a figure in white telling me not to go back to Herod but to go home by a different way. In the morning it was clear that all three have had dreamed the same dream. We packed up in haste. The little family too were in a hurry to leave. Joseph had also dreamed about Herod.

Balthazar and I made our way north along the coast to Tyre and Sidon and then inland, well away from Herod’s grasp. We parted in the frontier town of Nisibis and we have never seen one another since. I loved the old man like a brother but the distances are too great to maintain friendships with those who live in distant lands. There are very few who are willing or able to carry messages from our hills to the banks of the Indus. As I made my way back eastward to the hills, I saw the great star fade slightly each evening in the western sky. By the time I reached home, it was hardly visible, just a memory in the night.

Caspar went south along the Sea Road towards Gaza and on to Egypt. The little family travelled with him and I am sure he will have seen them safely to Egypt, well out of Herod’s reach. I believe that Alexandria in Egypt is a city great beyond compare and that many thousands of Jews live there. Mary and Joseph will have found shelter and work there, I am sure. For even in the hills of Karabakh, we heard of the deeds of Herod. He obviously took our words seriously for he ordered the death of every young boy in Bethlehem and round about. If there really was a new born king to threaten Herod’s throne, the wily and ruthless old fox was going to make sure he removed the threat at once. Sometimes, lying awake in the small hours of the night, I feel guilty that we put these thoughts in Herod’s mind. At other times I can comfort myself with the thought that this appalling man chose to kill those children. I had done nothing to force him or persuade him. Even so I am not easy in my own mind. And to be honest with you and with myself I am not sure what I found in Bethlehem.

Perhaps I will find out tomorrow. I have been moved to write this account because this week a wandering preacher has reached Karabakh. He is a Jew called Bartholomew. He tells people wonderful stories about a holy man called Jesus. Now that was the name of the baby in Bethlehem. So I have invited this Bartholomew to come and see me tomorrow. He can tell me his stories and announce his message and I will see what I will see.
Bernard Fylesimage


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