Picture (at left) taken on Christmas Eve of 1986, heading out the door on the way to church. Do you think they look guilty of conspiracy? Andrew is 4 yrs 6 months; Naomi is 2 yrs 4 months. How on earth did they pull this caper off?
Yesterday I promised Advent stories. Today is one of my favorite family tales from "In My Heart I Carry A Star." But it started its life in print as a newspaper column, published in the Tampa Tribune just a few days before Christmas back in 2002.
This is the original version, plus a few photographs of the wise guys in question!
The Case of the Missing Magi
- DEREK MAUL
It was the Christmas of 1986, and we were still in our first house, so Andrew and Naomi couldn't have been any more than four-and-a-half and two-and-four-months. Family tradition placed our rough-hewn manger scene close to the floor, near the underside of the tree so that carefully placed stars and angels could hover over the tableau.
Setting up is a ritual for the ages (They are young adults, now, and nothing much has changed). "She had the baby Jesus last year." "Why do I always get the camel with the broken leg?" "Your sheep is blocking my shepherd." "Give me a break, Joseph doesn't go there!" "Seems like after all these years you could let your father have a turn . . . ."
But that year, the day after we had set everything out, there was a terrible disaster. Every last wise man disappeared, all their camels too, even the baby Jesus. Rebekah and I searched in vain. We held interrogations. We issued ultimatums. Nothing.
That evening, just after bed time, we found the missing group of Magi huddled against a baseboard between their two rooms. "Good," we said, "they must understand how important this is." We placed them carefully under the tree again, thinking that - maybe - Jesus would show up the next day.
Instead, much to our dismay, Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior went on the lam again, along with their camels! That night we found them in the back hallway, in much the same place. "Leave the Nativity alone!" We chided them, unaware of what we were saying. The manger still stood empty.
Three nights later, after three more nocturnal kidnappings, Rebekah stopped me from scooping up the evidence. "Derek," she said; "can't you see a pattern?"
Well, I have to admit that she is usually brighter than I am when it comes to this kind of thing, so I made my standard reply. "Huh?"
"Every night," she explained patiently, "our group of traveling Kings has showed up a little farther down the hall. "Derek, let's leave them alone and see what happens. They may have lost the baby Jesus, but it looks as if the Magi are traveling toward the star."
Sure enough, each day over the next three weeks the small group of pilgrims made their way a little nearer to the Christmas Tree. Usually, they huddled close to the base boards, but trekked from table-leg to table-leg and then to the shelter of the chairs when faced with the dinning room. They spent the last few days before Christmas crossing in front of the patio doors, out in the open. But they were never once disturbed. Not even by Naomi, who at two and a half managed to remain a remarkably cooperative co-conspirator.
Christmas Eve morning the magi, bearing gifts that spoke of royalty, divinity, and suffering, camped under the coffee table, just a short journey from the stable behind the inn. That evening, when we all returned from the candlelight communion service, the entire diorama was complete once again. There, in the middle, born anew, was the missing baby Jesus.
I don't know how they had pulled it off, because we never once caught Andrew in the act. But, we did learn this very important lesson. The Nativity is not a stagnant museum piece. It is an interactive drama that, at its best, draws the entire family into the story of Christmas, bringing the infant Jesus into our homes at just the right time.
Grace and peace this Christmas. The wise still seek Him.