View all Posts | September 1, 2014
Starlight: Second Meditation
Troubles Along the Way
- The Disappearing Star
- The Long Way Home
- Conclusion: A Seasonal Journey
Troubles Along the Way
In the ancient world, traveling from Babylon to Bethlehem was tough. The Magi couldn’t just hop on
a plane, or fill up the gas tank for a comfy road trip. They would have had to travel overland, in some kind of caravan, maybe with camels or donkeys, and it would have taken an extended period of time — weeks if not months.
But starting out on their journey wasn’t the only difficulty they faced. Two other hardships made their trip into a troubled pilgrimage. Taking some time to reflect on them will help us face similar hardships in our own pilgrimage of faith.
The Disappearing Star
The first difficulty they faced was the disappearing star.
When they saw the star arise, they knew that it signaled the birth of the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews, and they decided to go and meet him.
So they set out for the obvious destination, the only logical place, where a King of the Jews could be found: The holy city of the Jews, their religious and political capital, Jerusalem
At this point, it seems that the star itself wasn’t directly leading them. We know this because St. Matthew later points out that they were overjoyed when the star reappeared to guide them to Bethlehem.
But when they finally arrive at the holy city, things don’t go according to their plans: Nobody knows about the new-born King; no one is talking about him; he is not there. The Magi expected to find a royal family with a new child and a city warmed by the presence of a long- awaited Savior.
Imagine their surprise when they entered the city gates and made their first inquiries, and the residents gave them only a puzzled look in response. They seemed to have arrived at their expected destination, but all they found was confusion and disappointment. Without realizing it, they had allowed their own expectations to carry them away. Now they needed to readjust those expectations by a closer examination of God’s designs.
Only after stirring up the whole city (St. Matthew tells us that both King Herod and the rest of Jerusalem were “greatly troubled” by the Magi’s inquiry) and engaging
in a thorough investigation did God intervene again, making the star reappear and lead them to the new- born King. So many times we encounter the same difficulty!
So many times we have an authentic experience of God, we truly hear his voice, we get a real glimpse of a star, and we respond generously and sincerely, setting out on a new phase in our pilgrimage of faith, only to find that our merely human expectations got the better of us, that we hadn’t fully understood all that God was telling us.
When that happens, we need to do exactly what the Magi did: Keep inquiring, go the Scriptures, go to the custodian of the Scriptures (the Church), courageously search for how to continue responding to God’s will.
And when the time is right, when our inquiry has
had the effect that God wishes on the Herods and Jerusalems of the world, the star will reappear to guide us onward.
In fact, Christ himself promised that this would be the case. He told his disciples:
Seek, and you will find… for the one who keeps on seeking always finds
– Matthew 7:7-8
The Long Way Home
The Magi had to face a second major difficulty.
This one showed up after they thought they had reached their goal. They made their way to Bethlehem, found Jesus in his mother’s arms, and joyfully worshipped him by offering their treasures — precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
At that point, deeply content, they surely thought that their quest was complete; their journey was a success. But God had a different idea. He had more for them to do, to experience, and to suffer. Because they had become subjects and friends of Christ, the new-born King, they had also made new enemies: Any enemy of Christ was now their enemy as well.
And King Herod had made himself an enemy of Christ. He feared that a new-born King of the Jews would usurp his power and disrupt his plans, so instead of welcoming Jesus, Herod sought to destroy him. We know from other historical sources that this Herod was a bloody and unscrupulous tyrant. He was expecting the Magi
to report back to him after finding Jesus. But the Magi were warned in a dream not to do so.
Imagine their conversation after that dream. Imagine what a risk it would be for them to not report back
to Herod. Surely Herod had informants everywhere. Their departure from Bethlehem would be noticed. If they didn’t come back to Jerusalem to report, Herod would pursue them. If he caught them, what would happen? It was not a pleasant consideration. It seemed that their journey was not quite as over as they thought.
In the end, the Magi obeyed God’s warning and protected the new-born King, putting their own lives
at risk. But to do so, St. Matthew tells us, they had to “depart for their country by another way.” They had
to take another way home, a longer way, an unfamiliar way, a riskier way: instead of their adventure coming to an end after their joyful encounter with Jesus, it was just beginning.
And the same thing is true in our pilgrimage of faith.
So often we have a powerful experience of God, like the Magi, and we think that we have arrived at full Christian maturity, that it will be smooth sailing from now on. And then, the next day, or the next moment, we find ourselves threatened and pressured and even attacked by some new Herod.
We find ourselves moved to continue a difficult pilgrimage, led to follow an unfamiliar and risky path instead of the easier one we already know, asked to put with the discomforts and injustices of a fallen world in spite of having discovered and encountered and worshipped the world’s Redeemer.
Whenever we find ourselves in that situation, we need to follow the example of the Magi, trusting in God’s providence, obeying his voice, taking the risk of being faithful to our friendship with Christ, even if it means laying our lives on the line.
Conclusion: A Seasonal Journey
The Magi’s life-changing journey following the star is indeed a living parable for our lifelong journey of faith. But it’s also a particularly appropriate guide for our littler journey through the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas.
During these seasons, God wants us to experience afresh the joy that comes from seeing the star of his loving and faithful presence in our lives. And to do that, we have to leave aside anything that may be holding
us back — whether discouragement at disappointed expectations, or fear of the risks involved in being faithful citizens of Christ’s Kingdom.
Let’s take few minutes now to contemplate these two difficulties that the Magi faced and overcame, and let’s ask our Lord to give us enough light and strength to overcome them too.
The following questions and Bible passages may help your meditation.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
1. When was the last time my expectations didn’t line up perfectly with God’s plans? How did I react, and why?
2. The Magi welcomed Christ’s Lordship over their lives and submitted to it, while Herod resisted and tried to destroy it. Why did they react so differently? What types of situations tend to bring out my inner Herod, my inner Magi?
3. How often did the Magi think about their destination while they were following the star? How often do I think about the final destination of my pilgrimage of faith? How often should I think about it?
Biblical Passages to Help Your Meditation
Trust in the lord and do good that you may dwell in the land and live secure. Find your delight in the lord who will give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the lord; trust in him and he will act. And make your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like noonday. Be still before the lord; wait for him.
– Psalm 37:3-7, NABRE
Be kind to your servant that I may live, that I may keep your word. Open my eyes to see clearly the wonders
of your law. I am a sojourner in the land; do not hide your commandments from me. At all times my soul is stirred with longing for your judgments. With a curse you rebuke the proud who stray from your commandments. Free me from disgrace and contempt, for I keep your testimonies. Though princes meet and talk against me, your servant meditates on your statutes. Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.
– Proverbs 19:20-23, NABRE
Who are you to put God to the test today, setting yourselves in the place of God in human affairs? And now it is the Lord Almighty you are putting to the test, but you will never understand anything! You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind; how then can you fathom God, who has made all these things, or discern his mind, or understand his plan? No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God… Do not impose conditions on the plans of the Lord our God. God is not like a human being to be moved by threats, nor like a mortal to be cajoled. So while we wait for the salvation that comes from him, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our cry if it pleases him… Besides all this, let us give thanks to the Lord our God for putting us to the test as he did our ancestors.Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he
tested Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother’s brother. He has not tested us with fire,
as he did them, to try their hearts, nor is he taking vengeance on us. But the Lord chastises those who are close to him in order to admonish them.
– Judith 8:12-17, 26-27, NABRE