“Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, asking ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star in the east, and have come to pay him homage.”
Who were these extraordinary people? Only Matthew mentions them, but they have worked on the imaginations of centuries of worshippers. By the 5th century these wise men had become kings. By the 8th century they each had a name, and by the 14th century one was Asian, one European and one African, to represent the three continents of the known world – so Christ reveals himself, his Epiphany – to the whole world.
What fascinates me about them is what it is which caused these men who were probably wealthy, well-respected, comfortable – what made them leave their homes, and go on this long, dangerous journey? The poet W. H. Auden put it this way, “We three know that this journey is much too long, that we want our dinners, and miss our wives, our books, our dogs. But have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are. To discover how to be human now, is the reason we follow the star.”
To discover how to be human. For those wise men their deepest longing to become fully human would lead them to the Christ child. Their difficult and dangerous pilgrimage was to be a model for countless people ever since, who have set out on a similar odyssey to come to know themselves, and to discover that they can only truly know themselves when they discover that they are known by God.
However much we have, however comfortable and secure we make our lives – however much we bury ourselves in the finite – in material things – at some moment we shall glimpse that star, which will awaken that deep aching for something else, a deep dissatisfaction, a longing for something that no objects or possessions can fully satisfy. And this longing, however unhappy it may make us feel, is actually due to our greatness – that we are made in God’s very image, and that we are made for God, and nothing less can satisfy us, and give us peace, except God. As St. Augustine poignantly declared, “For you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”
That same God who disturbed the hearts and lives of those wise men, and set them on a long journey which would not end until they came to Christ – that same God is active today. He continues to disturb us when we become too comfortable, too dependent on the finite, or the material.
But it’s always been a mystery to me, why it is that some people make that journey and discover the Christ Child, and others do not. Others, including Herod, also saw that star – and others must have been drawn to it. One of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century, Bertrand Russell, also, I think, saw that star and felt the extraordinary spell – and yet remained an atheist. He wrote these words: “The center of me is always and eternally a terrible pain. A searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite – the beautiful vision – God. I do not find it, but the love of it is my life.”
When God disturbs you, when God breaks into your life, just when everything seemed so ordered and comfortable – be thankful – for that is God’s epiphany to you – Christ the morning star, calling you forward and onward on your journey, your pilgrimage of faith.
Let the last word be Augustine again: “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances: To seek him the greatest adventure: To find him, the greatest human achievement.”
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