7 January 2018 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples. FL
Isaiah 60, 1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3, 2-3, 5-6 + Matthew 2, 1-12
Some careless misreading of this Gospel has led to a rather unfortunate idea about what was going on here. While that carelessness has provided us with another nice romantic story to tell in the Christmas season, it does not touch the reality that has a lot more to say to us than what we are given. Matthew never says that these wise men, astrologers, or kings whatever another translator will choose to call them followed a star. It says that they observed a star “as it rose”. It says nothing about the star guiding them. The next time the star is mentioned is near the end of their journey near Bethlehem. A rising star is an ancient metaphor for the birth of someone special. When you set aside a suggestion that has no biblical roots that some star was like a GPS system, you can begin to grasp what this is all about.
They made their journey in darkness. They had no idea where they were going, and so, they had to stop and ask directions, seek and inquire. Now I know that many women will find this surprising, that a man might actually stop, inquire, and ask directions, but these travelers did. Instead of imagining some magic star that is not found in the bible, why not imagine a real journey with doubts and dangers, wrong turns, and sometimes, maybe bad advice.
This journey Matthew describes is as much a gift to us as the gifts he describes were a gift to the child Jesus. Their journey is ours, and the story is told not to excite our imagination about fine robes and camels, but to encourage us persevere in our search for the King. Many of us set out on the journey of life with a great dream and bright future only to have it all disappear or collapse in a tragedy. Things and unexpected events get in the way like clouds hide the sun. Some of us lose our self-confidence or doubts arise and we think we are losing our faith. When that happens, the truly wise seek the guidance of others. They ask for directions.
What we really share when we tell this Gospel story is a message of hope that darkness will pass, and that by having the humility to ask and seek direction, with an unwavering commitment to life’s journey toward Christ, we shall come into his presence. What we also hear in this story is that when we do find the Christ the gifts with which we are born can be offered to our brothers and sisters, especially those who are poor as the Christ was.
Once they have found the Christ, Matthew tells us that they went back by a different way. This detail is not about taking a different route, it is about the change that came over their lives. Having met Christ and heard his Gospel, we too take a different route with our lives with different attitudes, goals, and values. It is impossible to encounter Christ Jesus without it change the path of our lives. What matters for many yet is that they keep going and never hesitate to look into the scriptures and seek the wisdom of those who know. That is the only way to find the real King.