When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
"Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage."
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel."
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
"Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage."
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.
Following the Star
The Gospel for the feast of the Epiphany tells the journey of the Magi (the Wise) – seeing a star at its rising and following it, stopping and inquiring of Herod who consults prophecies and becomes afraid and lies, continuing their search with the return of the star, finding the child, presenting their gifts, being warned by an angel, and returning to their native lands by a different and safer route.
In the ancient world, the sky held the key to the affairs of earth. The Wise who sought meaning searched the heavens for clues. Were messages being sent? Was a revelation in the offing? When the Wise saw the star, it held this promise. It had to be followed.
Is there not something in us that knows this search? Do we not hunger for an ultimate meaning? Do we not want to know how we should live our individual lives of birth and death against the larger backdrop of Life Itself? This is a cherished wisdom, a wisdom that would combine peace and purpose. We seek it, even if we think it may elude us.
The Wise consult Herod for Jewish prophecies, but they are not taken in by his deceptions and evil intentions. They continue to follow the star, a light that shines in the darkness. They find the child and their gifts recognize him. The gift of gold discerns him as the fullness of the human. The gift of incense acknowledges the presence of God in his life. The gift of myrrh, embalming fluid, ominously foretells his death even as it acknowledges his dying is part of a larger plan.
This story of searching, finding, and symbolic gift-giving is meant to intrigue us. Where will it all go? Do we not want to know more?
There is a “Yes” to this question in the center of our being. We sustain star following because of an undying hope in our heart. The child of the gifts promises to be the fulfillment of that hope. If we follow the star, the next step is to follow the child.
© John Shea