Mishael observed the stars for an entire year, expecting the return of the kings. They had promised him news of the Messiah, but had never come back. Little did that innocent boy know that Providence had a much greater gift in store him…
It was a bitterly cold and fateful night, when the silence of that desert place was suddenly broken by the frantic cries of the tribesmen living there. Women ran desperately to gather their children around them, while the men strove in vain to defend all that was dear to them.
Finally, driven by the fury of the surprise attack, all were forced to flee. Amid the chaos, an eight-year-old boy named Mishael was left behind. He had hidden himself among some rocks at a certain distance, and dared not peer out until the sand cloud the raiders left in their wake had settled. When he came out in search of his parents, he found the entire camp deserted: he was all alone.
“What? My family fled without me? And even the teachers I trusted the most have abandoned me?” Sobbing, he gazed up at the stars and wondered: “Has God forgotten me, too? Will the long-awaited Messiah ever come?”
As the sun rose over the dreary landscape, Mishael wept inconsolably. Scanning the endless sand dunes, he felt utterly forsaken. What was he to do?
Just then, a pale cloud of dust began to form on the horizon, announcing the approach of a caravan. As it came closer, the melody the travellers chanted to ease their journey reached his hears. He hung on the sweet, mysterious words of their song:
“Silent night, Holy night! All is calm, all is bright ’round yon Virgin Mother and Child, holy Infant so tender and mild; sleep in heavenly peace! Sleep in heavenly peace!”
In the midst of all the men and animals filing by, laden with goods, three majestic figures stood out from the rest, mounted on elegantly-trimmed camels.
“Who are they? Merchants? They look so regal that they might even be kings,” thought Mishael. And, approaching the one who seemed to be the oldest, he asked:
“Please tell me sir, why are you so happy? This world only has sadness to offer, at least to me…”
“My dear lad,” replied the illustrious traveller, “we come from distant Eastern lands to behold a great event, awaited by all nations. Examining the heavens, we noted one star, brighter than all others, was moving towards the West. According to the tradition of our peoples, this is the sign of the great times! Salvation already dwells among us! For this reason, Gaspar, Balthasar and I, Melchior, decided to leave everything and follow its path.”
As he spoke, the old man seemed rapt in celestial wonder. Then, looking down at the boy, he added:
“However, we have already come a long way and are travel-weary. Where might we take some rest?”
Mishael led them to his parents’ tent, and offered them all he had: sleeping mats, and a bit of milk and bread. After a brief rest, the three kings told the boy about the adventures of their journey, showing him just how much the hand of God was with them for having heeded the heavenly sign.
At dusk, when the desert sands began to cool, the caravan prepared to depart. The wise men together bid the boy farewell and entrusted him with a mission:
“Our desire is to take you with us, but it is your duty to wait for the rest of your tribe to return. You know all that we know about the prophecies foretelling the Messiah, but you yourself lament that many do not wish to believe that His coming is near. When the others return, you must tell them that we have passed by here and convey our message to them: salvation already dwells among us!”
As Mishael listened, his eyes filled with tears. The faith of those kings had nourished his innocent soul, and now they were about to leave him alone again. But Melchior continued:
“Mishael, contemplate the night sky in our absence and remember this promise: we will return.”
Over the next few days, his fellow tribesmen came back to the camp in a steady stream, and life returned to normal. Yet the months went by and there was no sign of the Magi Kings of the East.
Seeing that the boy’s hopes had apparently failed, one of his relatives jeered:
“Silly boy, do you still believe those old men will return? Bringing what? Do you know why they didn’t show up? Because the Messiah was never born after all! If he had been born, and they are your friends, then why did they leave you here? You really let people fool you…” and the fellow’s sarcastic laugh cut to the depths of Mishael’s innocent heart.
Nevertheless, the boy continued to hope. Every night he gazed heavenward until, one night, he was struck by the fact that the position of the stars was exactly the same as it had been on the day when the Magi kings had visited. Precisely one year had elapsed.
His eyes, fixed on the horizon, anxiously sought for signs of the caravan. He was so absorbed that when he finally noticed the couple that was arriving at the camp from the other direction, they were already very close. There was a Lady seated on a donkey, carrying a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and beside her, a noble-looking man led the way.
Coming to the tent entrance, the man asked for lodgings, explaining that they were travelling to Egypt and still had a long way to go. Mishael gave him the best they had: the comfortable mats he had prepared for the kings, fine loaves and the creamiest milk his family’s flock could offer.
The night was so cold that he excused himself and went to seek some blankets to help to warm that extraordinary Child. On returning, he saw a light that seemed to stream down on Mother and Child as the Lady lullabied her Son, singing:
“Glories stream from Heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! Christ the Saviour is born! Christ the Saviour is born!…”
That tune… Mishael knew it well! When he heard it sung by that gentle and clear voice, he understood that the greatest of all gifts was before him. Timidly, he took a deep breath and completed the song:
“Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light! Radiant beams from Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth! Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth!”
The Magi Kings not been able to return to Mishael him as they had promised. But he now understood that his long wait was being rewarded with a far more precious gift: that of receiving a visit from the Holy Family. Our Lady had brought to him the very King of kings! ◊