A Short Story: The Fourth Wise Man

Here’s a story I wrote last week to get me in the Christmas spirit. This is a little bit different from what I normally write style wise and topic wise, but I thought I’d venture out of my comfort zone and try something new. Enjoy! And Merry Christmas to you all!

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The Fourth Wise Man

By: Cynthia D. Griffin

We came- the four of us- one bearing gold, one frankincense, one myrrh, and then there was me. They don’t talk about the fourth wise man or what I brought, but why would they? My gift wasn’t of earthly riches. It wasn’t even a promise of hope. It was a gift of humbleness, one not of much importance, only a rock and not even a memorable one at that.

The rock was dull gray with rough edges and not a shimmer of polish. A large scratch marred one side where I hit it with my staff, digging it out of the ground. The rock felt heavy in my grasp like it might weigh twice its actual size, but I chose it not because of how the rock looked or felt. I chose it because of where I found the rock.

It came from a field on the edge of rolling hills; it lay there for years beyond my own thirty. I knew this because of how well lodged in the earthen clay it had become. The field itself was not as significant as what happened there. In that place, I became a wise man.

True, I had not always been considered wise, or even marginally intelligent for that matter. I was a shepherd, a man who labored to keep his herd safe. I toiled through long days and even longer nights, keeping watch over my sheep with no thoughts beyond my simple, lonely life. I liked it, enjoyed it, and even at times reveled in it.

But then everything changed.

It happened at night like so many life-altering things. Birth, death, and animal attacks on my precious herd. It was a peaceful night. No torrents of rain, no chill that sank deep into the bones. It was tranquil. Something cherished by all in my profession.

I settled down for a peaceful slumber, but the shining heavens kept me awake, the crispness of the starry light a breath of perfection to my weary eyes. One of the stars shimmered brighter than the others, and then it shot across the sky with such intensity, I became blinded.

I hid my eyes, and in place of the white light a series of images tumbled about in my mind. Images that frightened and comforted all at the same time. Terror settled in my gut as I tried to make sense of these things. Things that were beyond the scope of an uneducated shepherd, but I struggled to grasp the meaning just the same.

Images of birth, life, death, and the emotional well that makes up all of humanity: love, hate, desire, indifference, greediness, pride, betrayal, and so much more than I could feel in a life time. I saw faces. Many faces I did not know, many I knew I should know, and some that I would come to know. The faces rose and fell in my vision like the waxing and waning of the moon, but one stood above them all. First he was a child and then he was man.

The child would live a humble life and grow into a modest man. He would walk the earth for only a short time, and then would die a violent death that would lead to greatness beyond my comprehension. And yet, I grew in wisdom in that moment and that comprehension consumed me, filled me to the brim.

I understood things I did not know before. I knew things that no other living man knew, or should know. I grew from a mere shepherd’s understanding to something else. I was a wise man, but I was not like other wise men. I did not come from the east. I was not wealthy. But I became a magi just the same. A student of the heavens and a sage of the divine.

That very moment I stood, knowing where I must go and knowing what I must do. And yet I paused uncertain of myself. Shouldn’t I at least take a gift if I wanted to look upon the face of the true divine? I looked about myself in earnest. That’s when I saw it, the rock. The thing I would take to present to the man in my dreams, because only he could understand my intentions.

The rock did not want to come up from the ground. It was a stubborn thing, and I doubted myself and the gift. But I was determined to make it loose, and the more it stood firm, the more my determination grew. At last it came free. After I damaged the end of my staff from all the digging, I brushed the clay away, relishing my new prize. I tucked the precious rock away in my robes.

The journey began. It took days to get to the place in my dream. I often stopped to talk to my fellow herdsmen. I even came across another shepherd who seemed to have a similar dream as me, only his was different. He claimed an angel spoke to him, telling him of some of the things I saw. But the shepherd had not seen the vision of the future like I had. I almost told him the truth, but at the last moment I decided to keep it to myself. Would he laugh at me? Call me insane?

After a week of traveling with my herd, I found the other wise men. They rode on camels, while I walked on foot among my sheep. They wore robes of riches, but my robes were simple and worn. They carried gilded boxes of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, when all I carried was a heavy, oddly shaped rock. But I held my rock close, as my heart burned with its secret meaning.

We arrived where the child lived with his mother and earthly father. The place was as I expected; humble as the man would become, strong with the odor of manure, but a presence of hope that canceled out all of it as if the place did not matter at all. And I knew that it did not.

The other magi presented their riches as I stood to the side watching with silent patience.  I contently watched the innocent eyes of the would-be King as he kept rapt attention on his mother, while his chubby hands played with a crudely made toy.

When the magi finished, I stepped forward with my gift. The rock lay in my upturned palms in reverence to the small child before me. The boy gurgled with ignorant delight as the mother took the rock from my hands, looking at it with confusion. But she smiled and nodded her head in thanks, laying the lumpy rock beside the richly, worldly gifts of the other three wise men.

I turned to be greeted by the disapproving scowls of the magi. One even stepped from the others and spoke with gruffness. “Why would you give the King of Kings such an ugly thing? You disgrace him with that hideous gift.”

I simply smiled and said, “You merely see a rock. I see more. I see the rock’s strength and endurance. Something that the child will need in abundance in the days to come.”

“What does that mean?” the wise man huffed with great indignity.

“There are things that are not meant to be known.”

I could have gone on and said more. I could have told them all of the things I saw. I could tell them what was to come. I could have even cited the child’s future to the mother, giving her advice to pass on to her new son, but I did none of these things. The magi all stood with their mouths agape, which looked quite a sight in their elegant regal, while I left that humble home.

I walked away with my head down, keeping my silence and pondering the burden given to me whether by design or by accident. I gave one last backward glance at the child before stepping into the night, and I knew my life would forever be changed. I took up my staff as a shepherd once again, but where my days and night had once been long and burdensome, I now walked with lightness in my step. My thoughts on the child and the gift he would give to us all, the gift of becoming our rock and strength to carry us through even the darkest of days.

The End

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