“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.”
~ Matthew 2:11-12
I have heard the story of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus countless times and have listened to countless homilies regarding the passage, but this Epiphany, I heard a new interpretation, and even more interestingly, I heard it twice from two different priests. I was always told that when you hear something over and over again, the Holy Spirit is trying to draw your attention to it.
That Sunday I was ringing handbells with my church’s bell choir, and we were scheduled for two Masses, so we heard the Gospel reading twice, each with an accompanying homily. Both priests started out by reflecting on the obvious “take home” messages of the significance of the gifts and the mysterious number of Magi that might have visited the child Jesus.
Not much is actually known about the Magi; they may not even have been kings, as in the famous carol. However, they were known to have followed the stars. They knew the patterns and alignments the stars were supposed to hold in the sky. No wonder they were struck when they beheld one star pointing to where Jesus lay in a manger far away. Stars move regularly across the sky, so how unusual and alarming to see a star that didn’t move with the rest!
The message of the star holds a very special place in my heart, because I often struggle to keep my eyes on the Lord. It is so easy to lose my focus to daily trivial grievances. When I do get lost, what saves me is the Holy Spirit’s quiet voice saying, “Look up!” The simple act of looking up and taking my gaze away from myself helps me remember once again that the Lord is in control. It is a beautiful message and I need to remember it, not just during the Christmas season but throughout the entire year.
As wonderful as the message that the Star of Bethlehem provides for us is, it was not the final one of either of the homilies I heard last Sunday. Both priests chose to focus on the last sentence in the Gospel passage: “they departed for their country by another way.”
All my life, that sentence has been interpreted as being a warning that the Magi should avoid Herod. Instead, the priests took the focus off the evil of Herod and refocused on the impact Jesus Christ can have on our lives. Herod is truly not important and only a side character in this Christmas story. Giving him credit for the Magi’s decision to change direction might miss the main point of the Magi’s journey.
The priests said the Magi changed direction because they had seen Jesus Christ. Anyone who has encountered Jesus is forever changed and will never be the same. He or she will change course once they have come to know Christ personally. Their lives will be forever changed.
This final message hit me, because I am at another point in my life where I am literally changing course because of my personal encounter with Jesus. I am moving to Connecticut at the beginning of February, on a path I have never taken before, but I am going because I have seen Jesus Christ and He is calling me there.
Following where Christ leads does not always appear to make sense (I am leaving a good community where I have been very happy), but it is always the best way. A new and grand adventure awaits; I cannot turn back and abandon it now.