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Prologue: The Star of 2000

We saw his star in the east and
have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2

A Parable of the Fourth Wise Man

You ask me who I am? That is simple. I am Zalshar, the fourth wise man who saw the star of Bethlehem. What is that you ask?
Yes, most people think there were only three Magi, Melchoir, Gaspar and Balthasar. They saw the heavenly sign from Persia. But they were not the only ones to see the star of wonder.
I saw the great star too, from Arabia. It appeared one night as I was gazing into the heavens. I knew the universe was about to bring forth a progeny, far beyond our understanding. Great hope filled my land, for the people expected the next prophet to appear in a foreign country. I set out on horseback to follow this moving star, and present my gifts to the newborn King.
Why haven't you heard of me? I am ashamed to say. All right, I'll tell you. I got lost along the way.
After I got my bearings , I finally made it to Jerusalem. It was there I expected to find the newborn King in glory. Yet through a dream I was told, "Not in glory, but in humility."
Later I learned the sacred writings foretold the King would be born in Bethlehem. By the time I arrived in this small town, I had missed the miracle of the first Christmas.
The Child was nowhere to be found, and left no trail. For months I searched the land, seeking to pay homage to the newborn King. After two years, I returned home from the land of Israel, a tired and bewildered man.
It was some 30 years later that I began to hear reports about a rabbi named Jesus. This one, so they said, was full of wisdom and understanding, counsel and power. Right away I felt this must be the one whom I had missed so long ago.
Yet the next report I received bore sad tidings. The life of this wise one was cut short, through death on a tree. The words came back to me, "Not in glory, but in humility."
Around this time I noticed that those I loved were growing older, while I aged not. My wife and brothers passed away, while I lived on. The years passed, and I watched my children age, while I stayed the same. Why was this so?
Was I here to search for the true spirit of Christmas until I found it? Would I follow that Star, wherever it led, until the whole world saw Him?
In the second century, I was full of joy when the bishop of Rome urged his people to sing "in celebration of the birthday of our Lord." People were singing Christmas hymns across the Roman Empire, stretching from Britain to India.
In A.D. 315, I learned of a kindhearted bishop who was honoring children with gifts as I once sought to do for the Christ Child. I traveled to the city of Myra, on the coast of Asia Minor.
I met Bishop Nicholas during one of his rounds. He truly was a godly and generous man, worthy to be later named St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Perhaps you know him as Santa Claus.
By A.D. 354, people finally began to celebrate the "feast of the Nativity" on December 25th. The spirit of giving began to burn brighter.
Many centuries passed with Christmas being observed as a religious festival. I wondered if the world would ever see the Star again. Then along came St. Francis of Assisi. Here was one who understood the true meaning of Christmas.
I was there in A.D. 1223, when St. Francis placed a crib and live animals in the chapel at Grecchio, Italy.Upon seeing this on Christmas Eve, the children exclaimed in awe and admiration, "It's like the stable of Bethlehem!" Tears filled my eyes as I gazed on this nativity scene, as I remembered how I had missed the first one in Bethlehem.
Soon the people began holding nativity plays to act out the mystery of the incarnation. After the drama, I would join the people on their way home as they sang Christmas carols.
I said to myself, "Finally the world is beginning to learn the true spirit of Jesus, 'not in glory, but in humility.'"
The centuries passed, and others arose to illuminate the divine mystery. Whether through Handel's Messiah, or Charles Dickens' Christmas books, people kept the true spirit of Christmas alive. Yet I kept waiting for the time when the whole world would find the Prince of Peace.
Now as the year 2000 approaches, Christmas is observed widely as a holiday and less as a holy day. Modern man has lost his bearings much like I did on my first journey.
Will I find the true spirit of giving again as the world prepares for the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus? There is talk in the land that a new advent will come in time for the new millennium.
My nights are spent much like I did 2,000 years ago, in prayer, gazing into the heavens. That feeling is back. Like in the days of old, my eyes are fixed on the horizon, waiting for the Star I once saw to appear again.
If this ancient desire wells up in your heart, as it has in mine, get ready for a wonderful journey. Another spiritual procession will certainly begin before the year 2000. This time we must not lose our bearings.
Perhaps we shall meet along the way in time to celebrate the bimillennial by giving Him our greatest gift. (Prologue, pp. 17-20)

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Revised: June 1, 1999