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The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

21. ARRIVAL OF THE THREE KINGS AT THE TAX-COLLECTION HOUSE IN BETHLEHEM.




Today, Sunday, December 23 ^rd, at dusk, I saw the three holy kings and their train arrive at the same building outside Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary had been registered. It was the former ancestral house of David of which some masonry still remained; once it had belonged to Joseph's parents. It was a large house with several smaller ones round it; in front of it was a closed court, giving on to an open place with trees and a fountain. In this place I saw Roman soldiers; they were there because of the tax office which was in the building. When the kings and their train arrived, a crowd of inquisitive onlookers began pressing round them. The star had disappeared, and they were somewhat uneasy. Some men came up to them and questioned them. They dismounted, and were met by officials from the house bearing branches, who offered them a light refreshment of bread, fruit, and drink. This was a usual welcome for strangers like these. Meanwhile I saw their beasts being watered at the fountain under the trees. I thought to myself: these strangers are more courteously received than poor Joseph, because of the little gold pieces they distribute. They were told that the Shepherds' Valley was a good camping-place, but remained for some time undecided. I did not hear them ask for the newborn King of the Jews; they knew that according to the prophecy this was the place, but because of what Herod had said to them they were afraid of causing any comment. When, however, they saw a light shining in the sky beside Bethlehem, as though the moon were rising, they mounted again and rode beside a ditch and some ruined walls round the south side of Bethlehem towards the east, approaching the Cave of the Nativity from the field where the angels had appeared to the shepherds. On entering the valley behind the cave, near the grave of Maraha, they dismounted, and their people unpacked much of the luggage and set up a great tent which they had with them. They made all arrangements for an encampment with the help of some shepherds, who had pointed out the places to them.

The camp had been partly arranged when the kings saw the star appear bright and clear above the hill where the Cave of the Nativity was, the light that streamed from it descending in a vertical line onto the hill. [135] The star seemed to grow larger as it drew near until it became a body of light which looked to me as big as a sheet. I saw them at first gazing at it in great astonishment. It was already dark; they saw no house, only the outline of a hill, like a rampart. Suddenly they were filled with great joy, for they saw in the radiance the shining figure of a Child, like the one they had seen before in the star. All bared their heads in obeisance, and the three kings, going up to the hill, found the door of the cave. Mensor opened the door and saw the cave full of heavenly light, and, in the back of it, the Virgin sitting with the Child, just as they had seen them in their visions. He went back at once and told this to his companions; in the meantime Joseph, accompanied by an aged shepherd, came out of the cave to meet them. They told him, in childlike simplicity, how they had come to adore the newborn King of the Jews, whose star they had seen, and to bring Him gifts. Joseph welcomed them warmly, and the old shepherd accompanied them to their encampment and helped them with their arrangements; some of the shepherds who were there gave them the use of some sheds. They themselves prepared for the solemn ceremony that was before them. I saw them putting on big white cloaks with long trains. The material had a yellowish sheen, like raw silk, and was beautifully fine and light. They wore these fluttering robes for all their religious ceremonies. All three wore girdles on which many pouches and gold boxes (like sugar-basins with knobs) were suspended by little chains among the ample folds of their cloaks. Each of the kings was followed by four members of his family. Besides these there Were several of Mensor's servants holding a small tablet like a tray, a rug with tassels, and some strips of thin stuff.

They followed St. Joseph in an ordered procession to the shelter at the entrance of the cave, where they covered the tray with the tasseled rug. Each king then placed on it some of the golden boxes and vessels which he took from his girdle; this was the offering which they made in common. Mensor and all the others took their sandals from off their feet, while Joseph opened the door of the cave. Two youths from Mensor's following went before him, spreading out a strip of stuff on the floor of the cave before his feet and then retiring. Two others came close behind him with the tray of presents, which he took from them when he was before the Blessed Virgin, and falling on his knee placed them at her feet on a low stand. Those who had carried the tray went back. Behind Mensor stood the four members of his family, humbly bowing down. Seir and Theokeno with their followers stood at the entrance and under the shelter outside. They were all as though drunk with ecstasy and seemed transfused by the light which filled the cave, though no light was there save the Light of the World.

Mary was lying, rather than sitting, on a carpet to the left of the Infant Jesus; she was leaning on her arm. The Child lay in a trough covered with a rug and raised on a high stand, opposite the entrance to the cave and at the place where He was born. As the kings entered, the Blessed Virgin raised herself into a sitting position, covered herself with a veil, and took the Infant Jesus onto her lap under her ample veil. When Mensor knelt down and spoke touching words of homage as he put down his presents, humbly bowing his bared head and crossing his hands on his breast, Mary undid the red-and-white wrappings from the upper part of the Child's body, which gleamed softly from behind her veil. She supported His head with one hand and held Him with the other. He was holding His little hands before His breast as if in prayer. He was shining with welcome, and now and then made friendly little gestures with His hands.

O what heavenly peace surrounds the prayers of these good men from the East! As I saw them, I said to myself: how clear and untroubled are their hearts, as full of goodness and innocence as the hearts of pious children. There is nothing violent in them, and yet they are all fire and love. I am dead; I am a spirit; otherwise, I could not see it, for it is not happening now--and yet it is now, for it is not in time; in God is no time, in God everything is present. I am dead. I am a spirit. As these strange thoughts came to me, I heard myself being told: What is that to you? Be not troubled, look, and praise the Lord who is eternal and in whom are all things.'

I now saw Mensor bringing out of a pouch hanging at his girdle a handful of little thick shining bars. They were as long as one's finger, pointed at the top, and speckled with little gold-colored grains in the middle. He offered these to the Blessed Virgin as his gift, laying them humbly on her knee beside the Child. She accepted the gold with loving gratitude, and covered it with a corner of her cloak. These little bars of natural gold were Mensor's gift, because he was full of fidelity and love and was seeking for the holy truth with unshaken fervor and devotion. He then withdrew with his four companions, and Seir, the dark-brown one, came forward with his following and, falling with great humility on both knees, offered his present with touching words of homage. This was a little golden incense-boat full of little greenish grains of gum, which he laid on the table before the Infant Jesus. Incense was his gift because he embraced the will of God, and followed it willingly, reverently, and lovingly. He knelt there for a long time with deep devotion before withdrawing. After him, came Theokeno, the white-skinned one, and the oldest. He was very old and heavy and was not able to kneel down; but he stood bowing low and placed on the table a golden vessel containing a delicate green plant. It seemed to be rooted; it was a tiny green upright tree, very delicate, bearing curly foliage with little delicate white flowers. It was myrrh. His gift was myrrh, because it symbolizes mortification and the overcoming of passions; for this good man had conquered extreme temptations to commit idolatry, polygamy, and to give way to violence. He remained standing in deep emotion before the Infant Jesus with his attendants for a very long time, and I grew sorry for the other servants before the Crib having to wait so long to see the Child. The addresses made by the kings and their followers were extremely touching and childlike. As they knelt down and offered their presents, they said: We have seen His star, we have seen that He is king over all kings, and we come to worship Him and to pay Him homage with our gifts'--or something like this. They seemed to be in an ecstasy, and with childlike and rapturous prayers committed to the Infant Jesus themselves and their families, their lands and their peoples, all their goods and possessions and everything of value that they owned. They besought the newborn King to accept their hearts and souls and all their thoughts and deeds, begging Him to enlighten them and to grant them every virtue and, while they were on earth, happiness, peace, and love. While thus praying, they were overflowing with loving humility; and tears of joy coursed down their cheeks and beards. They were blissfully happy; they thought that they had now reached the very star for which their ancestors had watched for centuries with faithful yearning. All the joy of promises fulfilled after many centuries was theirs.

The Mother of God accepted all these gifts with humble gratitude. At first she said nothing, but a gentle movement under her veil showed the joy and emotion that she felt. The Child's bare body, which she had wrapped in her veil, seemed to shine from under her cloak. Afterwards she spoke a few, friendly, humble words of gratitude to each king, throwing her veil back a little as she did so. Ah, I said to myself, I have been given another lesson. With what sweet and loving gratitude she accepts each gift--she, who needs naught, who possesses Jesus Himself, accepts with humility every loving gift. From this I can surely learn how loving gifts should be received; I, too, in future will accept every kindness with thankfulness and all humility. How kind Mary and Joseph are; they kept nothing at all for themselves, but gave it all away to the poor.

When the kings with their attendants had left the cave and gone to their encampment, their servants came in. They had put up the tent, unloaded the baggage animals, and, after arranging everything, were waiting in patient humility before the entrance. There must have been at least thirty of them, as well as a host of boys who had nothing on but loin-cloths and little cloaks. The servants always came in fives, led by one of the important personages to whom they belonged. They knelt round the Child and venerated Him in silence. Afterwards the boys came in all together, knelt round and worshipped the Infant Jesus with childlike innocence and joy. The servants did not stay long in the cave, for the kings came back again, making a solemn entry this time. They had put on other cloaks of thin stuff which floated round them in ample folds; they carried censers in their hands and censed with great reverence the Child and the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph and the whole cave, withdrawing afterwards with low obeisances. This was a customary form of worship amongst these people.

During all this Mary and Joseph were as full of sweet joy as I ever saw them; tears of happiness often ran down their cheeks. The recognition and solemn veneration of the Infant Jesus, whom they had been obliged to lodge so poorly, and whose infinite glory was a secret hidden in their humble hearts, brought them endless consolation. By God's almighty Providence, they saw the Child of the Promise being given, in spite of the blindness of mankind, what they themselves could not give him: the worship of the great ones of the earth with all the sacred splendor due to Him, prepared since centuries and sent from a far country. They worshipped Jesus with the holy kings, happy in the honor paid to Him.

The kings' encampment was set up in the valley behind the cave, stretching as far as the tomb of Maraha. The beasts of burden were fastened in rows to posts between ropes. Beside the big tent, which was near the hill of the Cave of the Nativity, was an enclosure roofed with mats where part of the baggage was stored, though most of it was taken into Maraha's tomb. The stars had come out when all had left the Crib, and they all assembled in a circle near the old terebinth tree which stood above Maraha's tomb and there, with solemn hymns, held their service to the stars. I cannot express how movingly their singing echoed through the quiet valley. For so many centuries their forebears had gazed at the stars, prayed, and sung; and today all their yearning was fulfilled. They sang in raptures of gratitude and joy.











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