What Child Is This?... A Story of a Secret Prince
What Child Is This?
A long time ago, and in a land faraway, lived a people known as the Hebrews, or the Jews of Israel. They were a real people, and these are some of the stories that they told, and some of the stories they lived by. Are they true stories? I don’t know; I wasn’t there, but neither were you, so listen.
Their country was called Judea and Jerusalem was its capital, but most people lived in small towns and villages. They were small farmers, and lived in little villages and walked to their fields to work. Just like the people who live in those countries now, they grew grain for bread, and olives for oil and fruit.
The Hebrews were proud and had a long history. Fifteen hundred years before, they had been slaves in Egypt, but their God, Yahweh, had inspired Moses to lead them to freedom. They told an exciting story about Moses matching wits with the most powerful man on Earth, the Pharoah of Egypt. And when Moses led them out of Egypt, Pharoah sent his army to bring them back, God had caused them to drown in the Red Sea. And they told many stories about how their ancestors had conquered the land they now lived in.
They, the Jews of ancient Israel and Judah, had been once a mighty, and powerful and wealthy nation. A thousand years ago, had lived their greatest King, King David, one of the greatest Kings of all time, and David’s Son, King Solomon, had built a great and magnificent Temple in Jerusalem for their God Yahweh. That temple had been destroyed, so they built another one just like it. And that Temple was huge, and hung with gold and precious stones and beautiful, and the Jewish people went to the Temple to worship God.
But those days of riches and glory were gone. They had been conquered by country after country, and now they were ruled by the Roman Empire. And the Roman Empire was big and powerful and cruel. They had to pay high taxes to the Romans, and the Roman soldiers were cruel. The Romans had made the Jewish King, King Herod into their servant. So the people were once strong and powerful and wealthy, now they were poor, , and they were ruled by foreigners and they were losers.
Of course, the people had a dream, a hope. They did not know when it would happen, but they were sure that their God Yahweh, who had saved them from Egypt, would rescue them from the Romans. They believed that someday someone would come along who would be their leader and their rescuer, another Moses. They even knew who he would be; he would be a descendent of their greatest King, King David, and that God would send him to come and kick the Romans out and save them all. They called him the Messiah, and they were waiting for him to come.
No one knew who would be this new King, he could be anybody, he could be disguised as a beggar, or as a soldier, or he might just still be a little boy growing up. Somewhere out there among the Jewish people, there was hidden King, a secret Prince, and everybody was waited for him to reveal himself, to whip off his cloak and show himself, and then to kick the Romans out and save everyone.
So this is a story about a secret prince. And we know other stories about secret princes, don’t we? Isn’t Harry Potter a secret prince? He’s just a small boy, at least at the beginning of the story, but everyone knows that somehow he will be the one to go toe to toe with Lord Valdemort. We don’t know how it will happen, or when it will happen, but we know that somewhere in the future, Harry Potter will be very important. Another secret prince is Strider or Aragorn, son of Arathorn, in the Lord of the Rings. The one who will someday be the King was a lonely Ranger deep in the Forests. And Luke Skywalker?
The poor oppressed people of Israel, who suffered under the Romans, believed that they would be saved by a secret Prince, a hidden King, that somewhere a small child would be born who be the future King and ruler.
Who was it? How will we know when he has come? What will he ask us to do to help him throw the Romans out, and to throw the bad King Herod, and how will he come to the throne? Who would it be? Was it this boy? Was it that little girl?
Now in one of the small towns, in Nazareth, which was a little town that didn’t count for anything, there was a young girl, who had a secret.
- Mary was going to have a baby. Mary was not yet married, and her fiancé Joseph, well everybody just figured that he was the baby’s daddy, but he wasn’t.
- So Mary had two secrets: one was that she was going to have a baby. The second was that her fiancé Joseph was not the Father of the baby.
- And Mary had a third secret, which was even more amazing than the first two.. Her third secret was what had happened to her once in her garden.
She had been visited by an angel, in fact, she had been visited by one of the most important angels of all, the angel Gabriel. Now, I wasn’t there, and neither were you, but I think it happened this way.
Mary stood in the garden and slowly as if from nowhere a butterfly starts to fly around her head. It was a beautiful white butterfly with golden speckles on its wings. Mary stood perfectly still and after swooping around and around her head, the butterfly, the beautiful white butterfly with the golden speckled wings settled on her shoulder. And then another one came, and settled on her other shoulder, and then another and another until Mary was standing in the middle of a shimmering gold and white tent made by the wings of all of these butterflies, the sunlight glistening on the tiny golden threads of their wings. The sun seemed to pour down onto her, and there was a quiet murmuring music in her ears, as though all of these butterflies were singing to her, a soft chanted song.
Mary lifted her arms and held her hands aloft, face up to heaven and a snow white dove floated out of the sky and settled into her cupped hands. Birds have hearts and they beat very quickly, much faster than ours, or dogs or cats. Mary could feel the racing heart of the dove, and it felt like a kitten purring in her hand. For a moment, they all stood there, the dove, the butterflies, Mary, the streaming sunshine all around them, the murmuring singing of the butterflies, the cooing of the dove, the shifting whispering wind. And Mary said yes. And then she knew that the child she was carrying was a boy, and that his name would be Jesus, and that he was the one that they had all been waiting for. It was her job to raise him up, to teach him the ways of their religion and their people, and to keep him safe.
But keeping this baby and its special role secret and safe was going to be hard. Hopes for a savior were running so high, and people were everywhere looking for that one special child. And naturally, the forces of evil, King Herod and the Romans were looking for him too.
Now when it came time for the baby to be born, Mary had to leave home. The Romans had issued a demand that there be a census , and they said that everyone had to go and be counted in their hometown. The reason that they wanted to count everyone was because they wanted to tax everyone. Now people who run empires from far away don’t try to make life easy for people; they just don’t care. Everyone has to be in the hometown on such and such a day and be counted.
The problem was that Mary didn’t live in her hometown which was Bethlehem. She lived in Nazareth. And so, right in the middle of winter, when it is cold, and when her baby is about due to be born any day now, she has to travel across the country to show up in Bethlehem to be counted.
Well, she wasn’t alone; lots of people no longer lived in their hometown. Too many people were moving around trying to find work that all kinds of people and families were traveling around Judea at the same time. So when they finally get to Bethlehem late at night, they can’t find anyplace to stay. Everywhere they look, there is no room and finally at the last place they look, the man who runs the Inn agreed to let them stay in the cave where he kept his farm animals. We think of it as a stable, but up in the hills around there near Bethlehem, people kept their animals in caves in the sides of the hills.
But that night, the night that Mary and Joseph are sleeping in a cave with the cows, Mary has her baby. It must have been awful. Cold and dark and dirty and cows and goats and pigs all around. Straw on the ground; nobody to help. It’s long and hard work to have a baby. It hurts a lot, and it takes a long time, and this was Mary and Joseph’s first baby, and so they probably didn’t know what they were doing.
But finally, the little baby boy was born, and he was healthy, and Mary, exhausted worn out, tired, counted his fingers and his toes one more time, wrapped her little boy in some cloths and laid him down in the manger, in the trough that the cows and horses ate out of, and laid down to try to get some rest.
What Child Is This? Part 2
So, the hidden king, the baby Jesus, had been born, and now lies sleeping in a cow stall in a cave behind an Inn. No one knew where he was; you would think that he was safe.
But actually, what Mary and Joseph did not know was that the baby Jesus was really in great danger. Evil forces, agents of King Herod and the Roman Empire were bearing down on the sleeping baby, on a mission to capture him and kill him before he could do anything. The little baby Jesus almost died that night, and if he had been killed, no one knows what might have happened.
His birth had set off a huge disturbance in the Universe, and mysterious signs and signals were everywhere. Little clues that certain people could read.
There were some astrologers, wisemen, Kings, who lived in the countries to the East, where Iraq and Iran are now, who had been watching a particular star. They thought it was a signal of something new happening and they were trying to find out where and what and how. So they had started a long journey to follow that star.
Because they were very wise and important men, they, of course, stopped by to see King Herod when they were passing through Jerusalem, on their way to Bethlehem. Just a little visit between the high and mighty, a little chin wag down at the private club for Kings. So, Herod asks them what brings them over to this neck of the woods. Why, we’re following a star because we think it’s going to show us the way to something really big and exciting – who knows, maybe the birth of a new King.
Well, this was just the wrong thing to say to Herod. Because he figures if somewhere out there a new King is being born, then this is not good news. This means that the new King is not going to be his son, which means bad news for Herod.
So, Herod says, all kingly charm and casual, “say, isn’t that an interesting thing ! Yessirree ! If you come across any new kings being born, then let me know, because I would sure like to see that myself. And these three astrologers agree and off they go, following that star.
That star was a like a search light leading right to Bethlehem, and right to the cave where Jesus and Mary and Joseph were holed up, trying to stay warm, trying to stay clean, trying to rest up so that they can go back home to Nazareth and get on with the lives. And following that searchlight are these three astrologer-Kings, humping along with their camels and right behind them is King Herod, who wants to find that baby, that hidden King and kill him before he ever wakes up from his first nights sleep.
But Jesus and Mary and Joseph are not going to be alone.
Up in the hills around Bethlehem, there were shepherds who were watching their flocks by night. This was a job; these were young boys, usually, who would stay with flocks of sheep at night, to protect them from the wolves, and to keep them from getting lost on cold winter nights. It was a dog’s life, because the shepherds basically a job that sheep dogs did. You pretty much lived like a sheep, or a dog: you had to stay up all night, and you lived outdoors for days at a time, and you didn’t get much chance to sleep, and you didn’t have much food. .
Many of these shepherds were young boys whose families lost their land because they couldn’t pay the taxes that the Romans wanted them to pay, so these were the poorest of the poor, and they had a fierce hunger for a leader who would save them from the Romans and change their lives.
That night, they were visited by an angel. Now, I wasn’t there, and neither were you, so listen because that’s what they said. They said that they saw a bright light, and then a beautiful angel appeared in the sky, and the angel told them that they shouldn’t be afraid anymore. And the angel told them that their secret prince, their hidden king, the little baby that would grow up to be their Messiah was being born that night, down in a cave in Bethlehem. And they said that the whole sky was filled with angels who were singing and playing harps and making the most beautiful music. I don’t’ know; I wasn’t there, and neither were you, but that’s what they said.
So, they left their sheep behind and went to Bethlehem and have a look-see at this baby, and there they found him, with his mother and his father, just like the angels had said.
They were all very happy and crowded around, and hugged the baby, and played with the animals and helped clean up the place and talked with Joseph.
Well, you know who arrived next; the astrologer kings, looking for the baby who was going to be the new King. And there are the Kings, and there are the shepherds and there are Mary and Joseph and there is the hidden Prince, all meeting in the middle of the night in a place where nobody was supposed to be at all.
It could have all come apart right then, and ended the story. In a way, that would have been the normal thing. The shepherds would have all bowed down to the Kings, because that is what shepherds are supposed to do to Kings. The Kings could have checked out the little boy and gone back to Herod and told him where he was, just as Herod had asked them to do. Kings do favors for each other. Herod could have sent his army and arrested the baby. After all, Kings have to protect themselves from people who would overthrow them. If that night long ago, was a normal night, a night when everything happens as its usually does, the story would have been over.
But something else happened, and I don’t know what it was. After all, I wasn’t there and neither were you.
Something happened that night and it is a mystery. The kings saw the baby Jesus, and they decided that they would not tell Herod where he was. Why? Why did they change their minds? Why did they decide to help this little baby, and his poor exhausted mother? The people who wrote this story down said that God came to them in a dream. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but neither were you.
Let’s just say this: There are moment that come in every person’s life, when they simply have to decide, at a moment’s notice, what kind of person they are going to be. You see a person being picked on by bullies. You see a great injustice being done. You see someone who is poor and needs your help. You see some sort of evil being done, and you have to decide right then, right now, what you are going to do. And in that moment, all of your other plans have to go out the window. That was the choice that the three Kings faced. Were they going to help King Herod find this little boy and kill him, or were they going to help this little boy, the Hidden King, escape.
They decided right then on the spot that they throw in with the hidden King. Maybe it was the sweetness and innocence of Mary. Maybe it was the shepherds, how excited they were and how much hope they were putting on this little boy. Maybe it was the straightforward honesty of Joseph, the new young dad. But whatever it was, they saw something there that they wanted to be a part of, somebody they wanted to protect.
So they told Joseph to get out of town in a hurry, that Herod was coming with his army and that he was likely to kill every little boy he could find. So, Joseph and Mary fled into Egypt and the Kings went home another way and the shepherds returned to their flocks, singing songs and praising God, and giving thanks that the secret king, the hidden prince had been born and was going to be safe.
There is one final note to this story: a little incident that comes a few days later. The last we see of Jesus and Joseph and Mary they were headed for Egypt, but it also appears that just a week later, they go to the Temple in Jerusalem.
There is an old man who lives there. Simeon is his name; and all his life he has been waiting too for the hidden prince, the secret King, the future saviour to come. He is waiting because he knows that he will not die until he sees him. And when he sees Jesus and Mary come into the Temple, he rushes over to them, and takes the baby in his arms, and says “Now I can die in peace, for I have seen the Messiah.”
And everyone else crowds around Simeon and they are all asking: What did he say? That he has seen the Messiah? That he has seen our hidden King? Where? What child is This?