The Wise Guys
The feast of the Epiphany, Little Christmas the 12th day of Christmas. Epiphany means “the introduction”, “the unveiling” “the announcement”. It’s the day when the three magi—Balthazar, who is traditionally the younger one, and dark skinned; Melchior, the middle aged one and maybe a little overweight, and Gaspar, the eldest, with a long white beard—the three kings, the thee wise men arrive at the manger, and discover the baby under the star they have been following. They were not Jews like Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and so on Epiphany they are literally guests at the ‘world premiere’ of Jesus as savior to the whole world. And they become the first ones to tell the rest of the world the amazing thing that has happened in this birth.
Unfortunately most of us don’t celebrate the Epiphany. We’ve forgotten what happened on that day, one of the most important moments of the whole Christmas story. I mean, right now, all throughout the land, the Christmas trees are out at the curb, awaiting the Sanitation Department pickup, or they are already back in their boxes in the attic or the garage. It’s already Valentine’s day in the stores, and well, we’ve moved on to a new sales event.
In one particular house not too far from here, Christmas had been over since December 26th, and why not? The tree and the trimmings had been up almost as long as at Macy’s, since just around Thanksgiving, and everyone in that house had their fill of Christmas. On the 26th, the tree was already disassembled into bundles of wiry branches and put into its special year-round storage case, the LED icicle lights were removed from the eves of the house and the Star Shower laser light projector was returned to its box. The mechanical Santa and Mrs Claus—the ones that were in the big picture window and whose arms moved left to right waving at everyone who passed by, they were back in their plastic bags, their electric cords neatly coiled and taped. The three Wise Guys—ok, to be more respectful, the Wise Men---from the manger scene that had been beautifully displayed on the table where you entered the house…they were wrapped in old newpapers and boxed separately from the rest of the set because there wasn’t enough room in the box with all the sheep and the camels and the shepherds and of course Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.
As I said, it was the day after Christmas—the 26th—and it was all over, and so the family left it all behind, turning down the heat, locking all the doors, setting the alarm, as they headed off to a much-needed family vacation on warm, sunny Florida beaches. With the last sounds of the garage door closing, a car starting and then the fading engine of the car as they drove off, the house grew silent and still in its emptiness. It was quiet except in one far corner of the attic, next to the beach chairs and garden hoses, where from somewhere within a large box, small muffled voices and the crackling of newpapers could be heard.
“Hey…hey!!!!! Anybody hear me?” came one high-pitched voice. “Yeah, I’m over here,” said another. “Can’t get this stuff off..” said a third voice. The box that sat in the dark corner of the attic was moving ever so slightly. Then another voice: ”Got it…YESSSSS!”, and the sounds of newspapers tearing, a few grunts and groans, and within moments the box had flipped on its side and the lid opened up. Out tumbled three disheveled Wise Guys, umm, Wise Men, all of them looking as though they had been tumbling in a clothes dryer, their hair all askew, their robes bunched in strange ways and cock-eyed. “Geezzz!”, shouted one. “Woohhoooo!” said another. The third one sat there, hands outstretched, feeling in the dark for his lost slipper. The other two straightened their hair, their crowns, their clothing.
“Where the heck are we?”, said the older one with a big white beard. “I have no idea whatsoever. I can’t see anything”, said the middle aged, fatter one. “I’m starving,” said the handsome, dark-skinned younger one, who had found his shoe. “All I remember is suddenly being grabbed from behind, wrapped in that paper, and shoved into that stuffy box. Didn’t they know who we are? What kind of way is that to treat a king? It was humiliating,” said the fat one. “Maybe it was Herod’s men. I told you we shouldn’t trust him”, replied his hungry companion. “You guys have anything to eat?”
“Ah pipe down, You’re always hungry,” said the older one. “Well actually, I could use a little something myself,” said the heavy one, not surprisingly. The older one took the lead and felt around and took an optical instrument out of his satchel and starting looking in every direction with it, trying to get his bearings. It was very dark in the attic even though it was midday, and you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. Suddenly he shouted out, “Ahhhhaaaa…score!!! I think I found something.” There was a light, a very tiny light, a pinhole of a light streaming down into the blackness. It was way over on the other side of the huge, cluttered attic. “By my calculations, it’s about 10 days away,” he said. “Well, we better get some food before then,” said the other two almost simultaneously. “What’s the rumpus?” said the astronomer. “Food can wait. Don’t forget what we started out on this journey to find,” and he continued to remind them about their mission, and their destination.
So they set out, carrying their packages, guided by the light coming from the pinhole at the far end of the attic. It was an arduous journey, with many obstacles. There were boxes of clothing to maneuver around, stacks of old vinyl records, mountains of worn plastic toys, bags of clothing, old lamps, pots and pans, books everywhere. They could have easily fallen into many holes that were in the flooring, falling through the ceiling into the rooms below. At one point they saw the shadowy figure of a mouse go running across a beam above, and they all immediately stood completely still, like statues. Mice are scary, even for such royal leaders. As the journey progressed, the light would appear and disappear, almost like clockwork, and when it would disappear for a while, they would rest.
Finally, on the twelfth day after Christmas, the tenth day of a Florida vacation, they arrived to the place just below where the light shone down. There was a large cardboard Amazon box under the light. Two of them were able to scale the side and climb on top, and they both worked together to pull the heavy one up. They opened one of the flaps, and suddenly they all tumbled down down down into the darkness, bouncing off a roof of straw, right to the front door of a little stable. The light from the sky shone down through the opening of the box, and rested upon a baby asleep in a manger. All around there were shepherds and stableboys and cows and sheep, and a husband and a wife, obviously the mother and the father. The woman smiled at the three of them, who all looked a little goofy because their crowns were tilted and their robes were coming off their shoulders. They smiled back at her a little embarrassed and sheepishly. And then the fat one remembered. “We have something for him,” he said, gesturing towards the child. He reached inside his coat and took out a beautiful container, which was surprisingly not broken from the fall. The other two did the same, revealing their own gifts. They knelt before the little boy, who was illuminated by the light from above, and each and every one of them began to blubber like a baby. The woman and her husband held one another and smiled at the sight. The shepherds smiled and laughed a bit and even the sheep baaa-ed and the cows moo-ed at the sight of these three, dirty, hungry, disheveled men with tears streaming down their faces kneeling before the child.
They hung out there, with the amazing baby and his parents for a few days…or at least through several cycles of the light which shone into the box. They took turns holding the baby, and even did some chores while they were there: milked the cows, swept the hay, assisted a few of the shepherds with the sheep.
One morning they woke up to the sound of an arriving car, squeals of children, some bickering about from adult voices about the bill for the EZ pass. The three Wise Guys looked at one another: Herod’s men, no doubt. The Florida vacation was over, and it was time for the vistors to return home. They kissed the baby and his mother. They even kissed the father—it’s a custom and OK for men to do that where they come from---and then they began the long journey back via a different route. They were deeply worried about wild mice. They went past an old vacuum cleaner, a bunch of dolls and scary-looking stuffed animals, and around a graveyard of VCRs, Macintosh computers, flip phones, floppy drives, 8 track cassettes and Sega video consoles.
To finish their mission, they realized they needed to let the whole world know who they had found under the light from the sky. It was the younger one, of course, who figured out a way to send a message through an old Apple II computer in the junk pile, telling everyone that a new king had been born. It went viral all over the internet, on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
When they were satisfied that their mission had been accomplished, they found their way back across to the other side of the attic, got back into their own special box, and nestled themselves into the wrapping. Convinced that they had completed their journey once again, and that the new year could begin anew with the Good News of a newborn king who would bring peace, justice and love to a weary world, they settled in for a nice, twelve month rest.
And hopefully we have received their message, that the world is once again renewed with a new king to lead us to the truth about who we are and who we are meant to be. We will be moving on, of course. It is already the second week of January, and Valentine’s day does indeed beckon. But we can’t just bury our Christmas wise men in the attic. We need to remember what this season was all about, how we are given anew the chance to follow our Savior by loving one another with more than a holiday season’s good will.