The Regift of the Magi

The three wise men seek the Messiah in the Jersey suburbs.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

I never expected three wise men to show up at my door to tell me my son was the second coming of Christ. Especially since Jared’s bar mitzvah was later that week.

“Funny story, actually,” said one of the magi—Melchior, I think. Not to be racist, but the black one. “We three kings followed the star of Bethlehem and arrived here shortly after Jared’s birth. But as fate would have it, Christmas of 2001 was not the ideal time for gentlemen of our persuasion to be traveling by plane.”


“What Balthazar is saying”—ah, Balthazar!—“is that Homeland Security refused to accept our ancient star charts as legal government-issued identification.”

“I told you guys we should have just sent an email,” mumbled the one wearing the bejeweled turban. Crispin? Jasper? Castor? I always forget his name.


“The point is,” continued the one who must be Melchior, glaring at his fellow magi, “we came here as soon as we got out of Guantánamo.”

They could tell I still had doubts, so Balthazar added, “And we have brought gifts for your child!”

“The brat is spoiled enough already,” I muttered.

The other magi pretended not to hear me. “Behold,” they said, reaching into their robes with a flourish. “Frankincense! And myrrh!” They handed me some sticks of cheap-looking incense.


“Great,” I said, smiling weakly. Not to be ungrateful, but weren’t they leaving something out? They wouldn’t make eye contact. Finally, Melchior spoke.

“We had a third gift, but the cab from Cuba wasn’t cheap.”

“We should have Ubered it,” murmured the other one. Craspin?

“No worries,” I said. Another awkward pause. “It was gold, right?”


“No, that’s cool. Hey, at least you didn’t get me a fob for my pocket watch.” They stared at me in silence. “Because I sold it to buy you a ribbon. For your hair? Wait, you guys haven’t read ‘The Gift of the Magi’? ”

As I stood there trying to remember what kind of irony this was—dramatic? I think it’s dramatic—the magi shuffled about, a subtle reminder that I wasn’t the reason for their journey. Finally, Balthazar came out with it: “So, may we see the child?”


“Look, fellas, maybe things were different in ancient Persia, but nowadays it’s considered odd when three dudes show up in the middle of the night and try to get face time with a teenager in exchange for some perfume. I’m gonna need proof. And honestly, a little gold might have helped your case.”

“Didn’t you notice anything unusual about Jared?” asked Melchior.

I thought for a moment. “When we go hiking, birds alight on his shoulders and squirrels approach and bow before him. But I never had a kid before, so none of that struck me as out of the ordinary.”

“And weren’t there miracles?”

“The other day he said he beat this tough level of Grand Theft Auto by figuring out a cheat code to pardon the thieves. And last week my iPhone died, and Jared asked to see it, and when he gave it back to me—oh, my God … it was fully charged!”


“Now may we see the child to tell him the good news?”

Crasper (?) spoke up again. “Well, the good news for the next 20 years or so. Then, the bad news.” He made a gesture of hammering in nails.

“Silence, Caspar,” said Melchior. Caspar! “If you don’t mind, we have other prophecies to foretell, and a huge bet to place on the Rose Bowl. May we see Jared?”


“He’s at his mom’s tonight, but he’s coming tomorrow for dinner.”

“Ah.” The wise men huddled together and whispered. “You are no longer living with the virgin mother?”

I tried to stifle my laughter. “Sorry,” I said. “No, Carla and I divorced shortly after Jared was born. I thought she was fooling around, and a DNA test proved I wasn’t the father. Which I guess makes a lot more sense now, huh?”


“The ways of the Lord are mysterious. If you simply have faith and believe, all will …”

“That’s creepy, though, right? Did God ask if he could impregnate her? Or did he use some line like, ‘Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven? Oh, by the way, I created that.’ Sorry. I try not to get too hung up on who my ex goes out with.”

Melchior was tapping on the porch railing, while Balthazar tugged on the sleeve of his robe, and Caspar pretended to consult a withered horoscope on vellum but was clearly checking his phone. I understood that they weren’t here for me, but come on. The last guy in my place got a permanent spot in the Nativity.


Still, something else was bothering me.

“This doesn’t mean we have to be religious? Sure, we’re doing the bar mitzvah thing for Jared, but that’s just so he’ll fit in at school. Right now he only hangs out with the outcasts.”

“My friend,” said Melchior, “perhaps you don’t understand. Two thousand years after Jesus, mankind has forgotten his message.”

“Exactly. I mean, what if Jared’s followers misinterpret something he says? And that’s gonna happen because the kid mumbles and can barely make eye contact. If you think the Bible got lost in translation going from Hebrew to Greek to English, what do you think will happen with emoji? ‘Judge not lest ye be thumbs-down crying face prayer hands.’ ”


“No one will twist Jared’s words.”

“If you believe that, I’ve got a needle-sized camel to sell you. Sorry, magi, but times have changed. You’re welcome to come back later as the three guidance counselors, but until Jared’s graduated he’s not old enough to atone for the world’s sins. There are 7 billion more people on Earth these days, and we’ve gotten much better at being awful. Haven’t you ever read the comments on YouTube?”


As I started to close the door, a police car skidded up to the building. An officer rushed out, gun drawn, shouting, “We have reports of three suspicious loiterers, one of whom is a black male who may or may not be armed.”


“It’s an astrolabe!” Balthazar cried out, holding up a bronze disc. “An instrument used to measure the altitude of the sun and stars!” But as anyone from the 21st century could foresee, the cop wasn’t going to turn the other cheek.

And as the three wise men were led away in cuffs, I called out to them. “ ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ is a nice slogan, but these days more people put their faith in ‘if you see something, say something.’ ”

I closed the door and looked at Jared’s school portrait on the refrigerator, which also appeared in an image on the frost on the window, and on the slice of toast I made that morning.

On reflection, maybe I had been too quick to judge those magi. If what they said was true, our lives were about to change forever. We might even get a reality show out of this.