Faith Works 12-17-16
Halls cold as stone, warmed by starlight
Clutching his robe a little closer around him, he walked slowly up the stone steps, round and round into the upper part of the tower.
The echoing halls were quiet; here in the imperial capital, winter meant damp and chill. Most of the court, and many of the wise men of the academy had traveled south to the warmer coastal parts of Persia.
Of the twenty senior magi, he was the only one in residence. By far the oldest, he had not gone with the three sent on their behalf to the east, and ironically the cold meant he felt too crippled up even to ride their calmest camels down to the ocean shores.
But the round of observations and recorded notes had to be maintained, and he was glad to have the work. The longest nights of the year were about to pass, and tomorrow the sun's rising should show a notch in the horizon guide back to the north. The days would be lengthening, and the promise of warmth to return. There were festivals on the official calendar to be announced, predictions of eclipses and seasons ahead.
Yet he could not help but also keep his separate log of the conjunction to the west, as the two great wandering stars, the golden and silver ones, wove their paths into a coming together, a drawing apart, and the a return. These regal lights were inscribing onto the heavens a pattern in which he was convinced he saw a rhythm, a series of movements which logically would bring them around from the west to the east, and a conjunction with the morning star, perhaps the more portent-filled heavenly body in the sky.
It was in search of further wisdom, prophetic knowledge, and better observations over time that had taken his students away to the east, across the great desert beyond the Euphrates. Caspar and Melchior and Balthazar were young enough to travel, but old enough to have the wisdom it would take to navigate the negotiations with foreign kings and distant academicians. Past experience, going back generations and recorded in the archives of the academy along with the star charts from ages past, told of how rulers and potentates of many strange lands were willing to use the wisdom of the stars for private gain and personal advancement. The academy in the capital was present, in no small part, to remind the emperor that their role was distinct from his own, to preserve knowledge beyond the needs of the moment. These stone halls were built to echo the grandeur of the palace, but for wisdom's defense, not to protect royal prerogatives.
Would he live long enough to see his three colleagues return, with new knowledge and deeper insights? He doubted it. They had been gone a year and more, barely enough time to get to the shores of the fabled Inner Sea to the west of the great desert.
He hoped they would find there the news they sought; a ruler of the spirit more than of the body. The movements in the sky echoed patterns deep in the archives, recorded as forecasts, predictions of a greater ruler to come, from the heavens to earth, of all the nations and not just of one people.
Would he like that prophecy to be proven true? Yes indeed. What hope could be sweeter? He was weary of requests to predict profit and gain and achievement of personal goals; he prayed to the Lord of heaven that there might be a greater vision than just selfish desires.
That is what the stars are for, he thought. Their purity and constancy, moving in their stately paths even when the clouds obscured human vision, spoke to him of something greater, something more meaningful, something . . . Someone? with a heart for bringing people together more than a plan to dominate and conquer. Someone who ruled even the stars, but spoke to magi and monarchs and even humble shepherds in their field.
At the top of the spiral stairs, the broad viewing platform opened to the skies. The stars were silent to most observers, but to this wise man, they told a story. A story whose beginning he did not know, and whose end was beyond this life . . . but he could hope it included him. So he would continue to wait, and watch, and listen to what the stars had to say.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you hear echoes of the Christmas story at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.