It took courage and faith for the Magis to make their long journey to find the newborn king.
told by Deborah
During the reign of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star arise, and have come to worship him."
When King Herod heard this, he was thrown into a panic, along with the big shots and bureaucrats of Jerusalem; and he called together all the senior priests and religious scholars and asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
"In Bethlehem,” they told him, “for as the prophet wrote, ‘And you, Bethlehem, are by no means the least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come a leader who is to shepherd My people Israel.”
Then Herod met secretly with the Magi to learn exactly when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and make a thorough search for the child; and when you have found him, send word to me so that I, too, can go and worship him.”
Following the king’s instructions, they departed, and the star which they had seen at its arising went on ahead of them, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were ecstatic.
When they entered the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down before him reverently. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
“Turn left where the PeeWee Golf course used to be.”
~ Uncle Frank, giving directions to an out-of-town visitor
Remarkably, the Magi found their way to “the place where the child was” with only minimal directions — just the name of the town, nothing more. And as far as being led by a star! If you’ve ever traveled by train or car (or camel!) by night, you’ll know that the moon and the stars only “stop and stay” when you do; otherwise they seem to be on the move, appearing to follow along beside you.
What was it, then, that made it possible for these seekers to locate the right house? How did they know which child was born to be king of the Jews? His name, his family connections, even the boy’s precise age was a mystery.
It was a treasure hunt conducted without any clues. And yet those traveling star-gazers were able to discover what neither Herod nor any other member of the citizenry could see: the divinely-sent king who had been born in their midst. But the blindness of those who did not recognize Jesus for who He was can be understood: He was not the sort of king they expected. In fact, Jesus was as far from the sort of king they expected as Bethlehem was from Jerusalem — not in distance, but in wealth, prestige and power.
Kings were expected to born in palaces to members of the elite: the interrelated, “important” families; their mothers elegant ladies, their fathers lords of the realm. Even in infancy these children were dressed in soft furs and silk, surrounded in comfort, waited on by servants; untouched by and unconcerned for those outside their circle.
But the little fellow nestled in his mother’s arms, swaddled in rough cloth, born in a stable, with no crib for a bed, surrounded by birds and beasts and stray dogs? Clearly this “Jesus” was not royalty, and certainly not rich or powerful, how could he possibly be the one for whom the Magi were searching! Who would even think to look for a newborn king in such a place as that?
It would, of course, depend on who was doing the looking, and what they were seeking. What did the Magi understand by the term “king”? Perhaps to them it meant one who was filled with grace and truth: someone who knew love and gave it freely, who was compassionate and caring; a man of wisdom and understanding, possessed of a genuinely blessed and holy nature. If that is so, perhaps it was not so extraordinary for these wise men to find a king born to and living among “ordinary” people.
“You can’t get there from here.”
Herod achieved and maintained his nominal status as King of the Jews through cunning and betrayal, violence and political maneuvering. Throughout his life Herod’s kingship hung by a slender thread — utterly reliant on the support and good will of Caesar.
Desperate to remain in power, terrified of enemies (real and imagined), King Herod ordered the murders of hundreds of his subjects, including three of his own children. Potential claimants to the throne were eliminated, along with any who might possibly be their supporters; over 300 military commanders were executed by royal decree in a single year. That the rumor of a newborn “king of the Jews” would provoke Herod to wholesale slaughter of innocents is quite in keeping with his character.
Hidden in plain sight, his anonymity a blessing; Jesus was kept safe. Yet it was not so for others. There is a terrible irony in the fact that the birth of the Lord of Life came during the reign of a ruthless murderer. The heavenly King who healed and comforted his subjects was the absolute opposite of the earthly king who ruled by threats and destruction; it is no wonder that Herod could not find Him.
Which brings us back to Epiphany: to our celebration of the Magi’s discovery of the baby Jesus. These travelers found the child after a journey of many miles, in a land and a town which was unknown to them, without any way to identify him — no name, no address, no distinguishing marks. How did they do it?
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
~ Mt 7:7; Lk 11:9
How do you know when you’re in the right place? Sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes we make mistakes, get lost, realize we’re somewhere we shouldn’t be, go back, start over, follow directions we should ignore, ignore advice we should follow, get lost again, and, eventually, with God’s grace, arrive where we ought to be. It can take a while. Years, often. Perhaps that’s why the story of the Magi is so well-loved, so persuasive; their story is everybody’s story: a long, long journey of yearning and hope — seeking a happy ending.
Sometimes it is in the getting lost that we are best able to find where we are supposed to be; only in mistakes that we discover what is right for us. If we never set out on a journey, we will never arrive at our destination.
If we never ask, if we never look, if we never seek, we will never find the treasure that is awaiting us.
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also.
~ Mt 6:21; Lk 12:34
The Magi took a big chance in making their long journey across unknown lands, leaving behind all that was familiar and comfortable. They risked injury, robbery, trickery, deceit, and misdirection, hunger, thirst, and failed transportation…. in search of a king they had never met, born to rule a kingdom they had never seen.
It was a journey of faith and courage — and perhaps a degree of madness, daring to believe that they would find what they sought: a new king, a sign of new life and new beginnings. And there, in the immense expanse of the raven-dark desert, they found the true Light, shining.
In Him was life, and that life was the Light of humanity.
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, has not, and never shall overcome it.
May the holy Light inspire and guide you in your journey,
What makes the Light shine in you?