The picture many people have of how the Magi came to Bethlehem goes somewhat like this. They saw a bright star in the eastern sky and began to follow it. The star guided them unerringly, first to Jerusalem, where it temporarily disappeared, and then to Bethlehem where they found the Child Jesus. Put like that, it sounds very simple and very exciting.
But how true is this picture? If we read the Gospel account carefully we will see that it is quite false. In the Gospel it says that they saw the star ‘as it rose’. It says nothing about the star guiding them. What this suggests is that the star was no more than a sign that something unusual had happened, or, more precisely, that someone special had been born.
The next time the star is mentioned is when they were on the road to Bethlehem, that is, as they neared the end of their journey. The text says: ‘There in front of them was the star they had seen rising.’ From this we conclude that in between they traveled in darkness, and had to ask and seek and inquire.
Their journey was neither simple nor easy. They encountered difficulties, doubts and dangers. Yet, in spite of these they persevered in their quest, and were rewarded when they finally found Christ.
This is why their story has such relevance for us. Like them we too are on a journey. When we start out on the road following the call to be disciples of Christ we too are attracted by something bright- an ideal or vision or hope. But this initial ‘star’ does not remain forever in our sky. It grows dim. Clouds get in the way and deprive us of its light.
And we must expect to encounter difficulties and doubts. Some people think they are losing their faith when they experience doubt. We should not be surprised when this happens. We must imitate the Magi. We must not be too proud to ask for guidance. We must believe that the darkness will pass, and once again we will see the initial star beckoning to us. The Magi can serve as models for us on our faith journey. They were single-minded. They refused to be put off by difficulties and hardships.
When they found Christ they offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh. This shows what happens to those who find Christ. Their hearts are awakened and burst into life. When we find Christ and offer our love to Him, he will help us to open the treasures of goodness that lie buried inside us, so that we can offer “gifts” to our brothers and sisters, especially those who are in need.
Having worshiped Christ, the Magi, “returned to their own country by another route.” This suggests not just a new geographical route, but a new mentality. Having met Christ and heard his Gospel, we too will travel through life by a different route. We will have different attitudes, different values, different goals. It is impossible to encounter Christ without it affecting the way we live our lives.