Matthew 2:1-12, The Epiphany of the Lord
In this age of GPS (global positioning satellites), we seldom turn to the stars anymore to lead us to where we are going. Admittedly, our smartphone is enough of a locational tool to get us to where we are headed, assuming our destination is just here on earth. If, however, we are going to some galaxy far, far away, we will need the stars again for navigation.
On a deeper level, we do still follow stars even if we are not headed for the galaxies. We allow these lights to guide our lives, shape our thoughts and actions, and affect the heading of our dreams. These lights can be people, ideas or teachings, images and icons, or even objects of desire.
Some of these stars are pretty but fake. And willingly or blindly, we follow them because, well, they are reachable, we feel good, and they reinforce what we want to believe. Other lights have a lethal luminosity that feeds on our fascination with power. Some stars constellate on riches, honors, and pride.
We follow these lights like moths to a flame because they are captivating and we think they will get us to wherever on earth we are going.
Come to think of it, do we know where we are going? Indeed, where are we headed? Have we ever really pondered what our destination is? Ultimately, what is our destiny?
These questions must have crossed the minds of the magi more than once. The story of the wise men in the Gospel today is about their quest for this “newborn king of the Jews,” with only a star at night to guide them. These ancient astrologers did their calculations, embarked on their quest, made a dangerous detour to power (i.e. Herod) before they finally found the Child of Bethlehem.
The story of the magi prompts us to wonder about the quest of our lives.
That quest is never immediately transparent. But we can infer the heading of our lives from the calculations we are always doing, the stars we think are worth following, and the gifts we carry in homage for whoever (or whatever) we have chosen to rule our lives.
The quest of the magi invites us to turn and return to the Child in a manger as the ultimate quest and destiny of our lives.
Returning to Christ entails that we consider constellating our lives around the star of Bethlehem, the light of Christ, who is the light of the world. This means at least two things: (a) recalibrating our sights so that we can see his light even in the dark; and (b) enlarging the orbit of our love so that we can love with his heart.
The star of Christ is the light that shines in the darkness. Not exactly glow-in-the-dark, his light takes some getting used to, especially if our sights have been trained on other more captivating lights for some time now. We discern his light when it is refracted (or mediated) through the words and stories of Scripture, the simple acts of oblation and generosity in the community that is the Church, and through countless ways we give compassion and mercy toward each other. We see his light from every flicker of hope and faith and love we have learned to give to one another. Mysteriously, we discover his light when the darkness deepens.
The star of Christ is the light of the world that shines for the world. From the wise men who came from afar to do the Child homage, from these foreigners (or outsiders) we learn that the light of Christ shines for all. Christ is not just for Christians or the churched. By the scandalous act of the Incarnation, by this radical move of inclusion and liberality, from his life story, we know that the Child will pierce the hearts of many, and he will be rejected by religious rulers and accepted by those at the fringes of community. In his light, we are dared to examine once more our prejudice and bigotry, our fixation with order and exclusion, the boundaries of our loyalty, and the littleness of our love.
The quest of the magi is our quest for the star of Christ that shines in the darkness and gives light to the world.
Someday we may head for the galaxies when these become reachable. But the galaxies will never be our final destination. Nor is the grave our final stop. We are made from the stuff of stars and in faith, we know, we are made to live with God forever. That has always been our heading. And by the grace of God we shall reach our quest, no matter the darkness, with the guiding light of the star of Christ.