Today we have the heartwarming story of the magi who traveled far to visit the Christ Child. They had waited long to see the long-foretold King of the Jews. For years they scanned the night sky in search of the sign–that one star that would signal the birth of the savior. And the moment it appeared, they left their homes immediately in chase of that star.
I’ve often heard this story before, but reading the Gospel story this time, I was struck by two details I had never noticed before. First, the star of Bethlehem did not shine brightly or consistently enough for the magi to locate the child without difficulty. The star rose from the horizon to get the magi to start their journey, but it apparently disappeared from sight sometime during the journey. Why else would the magi ask around about the child in Jerusalem, as we are told in this passage?
Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
The star’s disappearance tells us that the magi’s journey was not as easy and as problem-free as we have been accustomed to think. It’s not as if the star functioned like some trusty celestial GPS that guided the magi every step of the way. In other words, the magi had to be resourceful and do some research on their own to find the newborn king.
These strangers’ questions in Jerusalem were, in fact, how King Herod heard about them and their disturbing mission. The jealous king immediately summoned them to his palace and feigning a similar interest convinced them to share with him whatever information they might find about the Child.
After their audience with Herod, they were overjoyed to see that the Star of Bethlehem had reappeared, which finally led them to the Holy Child. This brings me to a second, often unnoticed, detail in the story: The Star reappeared despite the looming danger of Herod’s wrath. I think a different God would have immediately extinguished that star as any father would quickly remove any danger to his child. I would. I mean, the visiting magi and their gifts would be a nice-to-have, but there’s certainly no need to put the entire plan of salvation in jeopardy just to come up with a nice Christmas tableau.
But not our God. This One wants us to find His Son whatever risks and dangers this might pose to His plans–or even His Son.
I think these two seemingly insignificant details teach us a couple of lessons about following stars. Lesson no. 1 has to do with adjusting our expectations. When we follow our stars, we shouldn’t expect them to function like our personal GPS. Their purpose is to convince us to leave our comfort zones, not to show us how to get there wherever it is we’re meant to go. Our stars will disappear. Eclipses will occur. Stars will go into hiding. Like the wise men, we need to learn to search in the dark. We need to find our way because that is the only way to make our journey. This probably means that perhaps losing our way is an essential part of the journey. And most importantly, we need to refuse to give up just because the searching isn’t always easy.
Secondly, we can be sure that God is determined to find us, no matter what it takes or what it costs, to meet us where we are, wherever we may have strayed in our journey, and to offer us His grace just at that moment when we need it most. We need only to remain relentless in our star-chasing, searching for Jesus, even if all we bear is our meager but eager hearts.