Over the centuries, there have been many discussions, questions, and even arguments about the Three Wise Men who attended the birth of Christ, such as; did they actually attend His birth, or did they arrive as many as two years after that event, when He was a child? Who were they? Whence did they come? How did they know about the advent of Christ? Were they Persian, Babylonian, or Zoroastrian astronomers, perhaps? And if Zoroastrian - did Zoroaster himself learn of the prophecy of the coming of Christ from the Hebrew prophet Daniel, as some believe? Or were the Three Wise Men Chinese, as the Chinese - and many others - claim?
And, in modern times, the arguments continue - did the Three Wise Men even exist, or is the whole tale just a Christian fable?
Well, I frankly don't care. In fact, for the purpose of this post, I will not address any of the traditions, questions, or doubts that attend the tale of the Three Wise Men. For; I know in my heart that they lived and that they saw the Christ Child. And that is what matters to me.
They came from somewhere to the east, in that vast landscape of Asia that stretches from the Middle East to the Pacific Ocean. It had been understood by most of the eastern cultures for several, perhaps many, centuries that the King of the Universe would someday come down and be born upon earth, as a man, specifically, as a Jew. They knew that a special never-before-seen star was to herald his birth. The Three, like generations of wise men before them, diligently watched the sky for the sign of the advent of the King, hoping against hope that they, in their generation, would be the ones fortunate enough to witness the marvelous event.
And one day - or night - there it was.
Unique, bright, like nothing else in the heavens, it hung low in the western sky.
They had no doubt of its significance.
Their hearts bursting, their minds alive with anticipation, the Three loaded up their camels, gathered their servants, accumulated supplies for a long journey, and set out toward the west, following the Star, seeking a King. And, at the end of two years, they found Him. Astounded and awed by their immense good fortune, they presented their gifts, worshiped Him, and then, being warned by an angel of God of Herod's deadly animus toward the new-born King, they avoided the Israelite usurper and "went home by another way."
But they took with them an amazing gift; they had seen the King of Kings, born upon earth as a man.
Now, Jesus Christ is variously described as the Son of God, the Son of Humanity, a prophet, a kind and gentle Teacher, a Healer, the Savior. And He is, of course, all of those things and more.
But I see Him, first and foremost, as the Wise Men saw Him - the King of all.
I was raised by Godly parents, good Christian people who taught me to live by His teachings. I read the Bible completely through as a young man, many parts of it I read more than once and studied much of it diligently. I even memorized at one time or another several passages of scripture. Even so, I never had that deeper experience to which so many spiritual folk bear witness.
For me, for much of my life, belief was based not so much upon spiritual experience as it was upon intellectual reasoning. It was faith founded upon the pragmatic underpinnings of knowledge and of all that I had learned about the various belief systems of humanity.
In the year 1986 I found myself living in an extremely rural part of Tennessee with a wife and four young children, and I experienced a startling, and rather abrupt comprehension that being a parent was not just about providing food, shelter, and clothing. I needed to understand the meaning of human existence if I was to impart anything meaningful to my three daughters and my son.
So I set to work, educating myself on the subject of the Great Question; Why Are We Here? Learning what I could of every theory about the existence of life on earth - and I mean every theory - I eventually dismissed all of them except the Bible. But all my dismissals, at the time, were based solely on rational thought, and upon those things which I had discovered of each theory or religion, not on any particular spiritual experience.
Understand: I am not touting myself as an authority on anything, especially religion. I do not care what anyone else chooses to believe, and I long ago passed the point where any human can claim influence with me as it concerns the most basic questions of existence.
By late summer of 1987, I had decided in a rather cold intellectual sense that Jesus Christ was the answer, and that His teachings were the way to understanding. So, I read the New Testament once again, this time as if I was reading it for the first time, without any preconceived notion of what any of it meant. And I found that it satisfied, in a purely logical sense, all my questions.
But I wanted more. I wanted empirical evidence of my Maker.
Then I happened upon a very old book called Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians. Admittedly I was skeptical of many of the things expounded inside that book; nonetheless, after reading it, I craved an experience of my own - a personal meeting with God.
To that end, I made my way one day out across the field behind the house, down through the hollow and into the forest beyond. Searching through the woods, I found a small clearing with a large rock jutting from the ground near its center like an altar. I knelt and prayed. After praying for some time, it occurred to me that, rather than yammering in God's ear; it would benefit me more to listen.
So, I listened. And I heard - nothing.
After that day, and for every single day thereafter, in all kinds of weather, every evening after work, I went faithfully into the woods to that little clearing, knelt down, and told God simply; I am here.
Nothing. Ever. Nothing. I never heard His voice. There was never any kind of sign.
Through all those days, while awaiting a sign from the heavens, I read the New Testament again. And yet again. I spent an hour every day alone in the forest, listening. Days turned into weeks, weeks became months. After eight months of this, summer had cooled into autumn, autumn became winter, winter turned into yet another spring. And I had had no experience.
I grew discouraged. Discouragement eventually devolved into a sort of rebellious anger. But, in fact, something had happened to me over this time period which had nothing to do with my earlier studies. Nor was it related to any experience. It was, in a very real way, miraculous. The words of Jesus had passed through my eyes, worked their way through my brain, and had settled in my heart.
I knew now, without any doubt, that I was a created being. I knew that God created me. And I knew that Jesus Christ was His Son. I knew now the reason I - or any of us - exist.
So, then - I wondered rather petulantly - why didn't He speak to me?
One fine spring evening in 1988, I had finished my supper and was about to make my way, once again, into the woods behind the house. But as I went out the front door and onto the porch, the rebellious anger erupted.
I am done with this, I thought. It is pointless. He will never speak to me.
Turning the other way, I abandoned any thought of going to my "altar" and I tromped down the lane toward the bridge over the creek. As I walked on, and on, through the dappled sunlight that cast long shadows across the lane, my dark mood gradually lifted and after a while I began to quietly laugh at myself. Who did I think I was, anyway? In the great scheme of things, I would barely qualify as a worm; likely something even less. Why then would The Almighty feel compelled to speak to me? He would not, of course. For in a vast universe of humble servants, I suddenly realized, I was among the humblest; perhaps the humblest of all.
I stopped on the bridge, gazed down into the sparkling stream, and smiled to myself. The dark mood, its attendant anger, and the weight of needing to hear the Voice of God were gone. As was the need for an experience.
I was abruptly and rather acutely aware of the warm spring evening and all the life it contained within it, all of it a testimony to the Creator of life. Birds chirped in the thickets, wildflowers burst through the ground along the creek, the heady scent of honeysuckle filled the air. The earth itself was bearing witness to its Maker.
Never again would I need to go into the forest, find an altar, seek a sign. Every day of being alive was in and of itself an experience, a sign. Nothing else was - or would ever be - necessary. At last content, I turned toward the house.
And then, right then; when I expected - and needed - it least, He was there.
With me, on the bridge.
Did I see Him? No. Did I hear an audible Voice? No.
Yet He was there. And He was there for me.
I have never related the details of that moment to anyone; nor will I ever do so. It is meaningful only to me, is highly personal, and it can have no bearing whatsoever on anyone else in their striving after God.
Over the years, I have referred to it privately as my Thee Wise Men Moment. For in that moment, upon that bridge, I, far less wise than they, far less clever, far less deserving, was given a great gift that has sustained me throughout my life.
I often find myself distracted by the cares of this life: the need to make money, the frustration with the contemporary state of politics, the anger over man's inhumanity to his fellow man that is daily seen, the worry over this or that or some other thing. And I more often than not forget that which matters most - that which, in fact, alone truly matters; living a life that pleases the King.
I lose my way.
So then, every so often, I must push the world aside and go back in time to that moment on the bridge, to touch that moment, to remember it and its meaning. To remember what really matters.
Then, my priorities properly restored, my mind and my heart lifted, my feet back upon the right path, then, and only then, can I get on with my life "by another way."
Daniel Hylton is the author of the Kelven's Riddle fantasy series.