January 8, 2023; Mt 2:1-12; Epiphany
Today’s gospel tells us that after the magi had their audience with King Herod, they were overjoyed at seeing the star. This is certainly an understatement. And here is why. We don not know from which country the magi came. The gospel simply says they came from the East. But it is likely that the county was some distance from Jerusalem. So in order to find the Christ Child, the magi had to be willing to disrupt their schedules, undertake a difficult journey, and most of all believe the star they saw in the sky would lead them to the newborn king. They followed the star to Jerusalem, but when they arrived, it disappeared. The star abandoned them in a foreign country leaving them without direction and helpless. We know this because the beginning of today’s gospel the magi are asking, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?” They have to ask the people of Jerusalem because the star is no longer guiding them. Of course, they would then be overwhelmed with joy when the star reappeared.
Now the experience of the magi has a lesson for us. Because in our lives there are times when something that we believe in, something that is guiding us, suddenly goes dark. A close relationship or a marriage in which we have invested a great deal of our life can suddenly grow cold. A dream or career that always inspired us can be choked by an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The pride that we felt in our democratic government, believing that it led to liberty and equality, can be shattered by dishonest politicians and partisan disfunction. When we find ourselves in any of these circumstances, we, like the magi, are in a foreign country with no star to guide us.
It is then that I think that the gospel encourages us to do what the magi did. The magi used their heads. They asked for help. They inquired of the people of Jerusalem and ultimately they asked the help of Herod. Now Herod was not the most reliable source of information. He was cruel and self serving, But he knew enough to send the magi to Bethlehem. And thus they were able to bring their journey to a successful conclusion.
When we find ourselves lost and without direction we should do what the magi did. We should use our heads. A marriage that begins to unravel can often be saved by effective marriage counseling. A life that is threatened by addiction can frequently be retrieved by a twelve-step program. When we feel discouraged upon the state of our government, hope can be revived if we can find even a small action to take up that can push things in a better direction.
Now none of these options are perfect. They are not as reassuring as a bright star in the heavens. But they are the means that God provides. And as people of faith we believe that even when the star goes dark, God continues to guide us. So if we can take up the imperfect means that are available to us, we can continue the journey. And that will make it more likely that in time we will find our way to the newborn King.