The problem is that we hear this story so many times, that we develop our own images and version of these men. We assume Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior are smart, educated and rich. They have treasure chests, camels, gold, frankincense and Myrrh. Yet do we know they have everything, something could be missing. Maybe their lives were not filled with stars, maybe each had a private black hole, swallowing part of them up. And then they felt deep inside this calling, a gentle voice telling them that things can be different. They had to find what was beckoning, and then they find a star.
Matthew tells us the sign was a star at its rising. Not a brilliant star that lit up the heavens, or a huge comet streaking across the sky. A star- rising. It could have been one among the billions of stars in the night sky. A star you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it; one that may be out there tonight. But these men were looking. When I was young, I was told that God had this beautiful coat and the stars decorated the coat. That star that hung of Bethlehem was probably the one positioned over God’s heart, pulsating in rhythm with God heartbeat at the excitement of the love sent down.
When these men, left their homes to find Christ, I wonder if people snickered. They had no proof, only a feeling and a star. The silent whispers – Huh, wise men, they must be fools, God does not come among us. Their own rational intelligence was most likely telling them the same thing: are you crazy? Messiahs, stars, a long difficult journey on the off chance of finding God? Stay home, you can deal with it. But there was that longing, that gently calling and off they went, without a map, after a star.
I believe they did so, because like each one of us, we know that we are created for something more. Our lives have purpose. This journey that is filled with joy, pain, tears and laughter, has meaning. God is always calling us, if we listen, if we look. And despite our resistance, our attempts to fill that longing with material goods, temporary anesthetics, or the empty fillers, we need to seek out our true fulfillment – God.
Maybe that is why the wise men sought that star beating on God’s chest. The journey must have been perilous. From the area near Bagdad, they would have traveled nearly 500 miles. Through the desert, they faced heat, cold, and blinding sandstorms. They traveled unmarked roads with no comforts of home, encountering pleasant things like vipers, highway robbers, and Roman patrols.
Adding to the difficulty, imagine following a star without a guide or map. It is kind of like our own spiritual journeys. Some nights are cloudy and wish for the light to return. You are in a storm, and your footsteps wander as you search for the light. When the light is faint, you wonder if it really exists. This was their challenge; they strayed off course, reoriented themselves, and took that step, once again toward the star. I am sure when one wanted to turn around, they encouraged one another. When one was ill, they cared for their friend. They yelled, laughed, and probably cried.
To endure this journey, I cannot believe it was simply adventure, prophecy or curiosity. W. H. Auden captured their sentiments in the poem For the Time Being: This journey is much too long, that we want our dinners, and miss our wives, our books and our dogs. But we only the vaguest idea why we are what we are. To discover how to be human now is the reason we follow this star.
To be human, to realize they were created in God’s image, that they are loved by God. Maybe they knew that in journeying toward and finding a loving God, they would also find transformation. Each of these sojourners had a longing that could not be filled by riches. Balthazar had forgotten how to love, and longed for the feeling of an open heart. Or Casper had found out that he had an illness, and was fearful of the future. Maybe Melchior was just having a rough time in life and needed hope, a light that was to be found at the end of a star. So the three, with different needs, pushed forward, seeking that one thing that could transform their lives.
Each of us had undertaken this journey. Deep inside we know that there is something more. And we take that first tentative step toward Bethlehem. It may be with exhilaration, trepidation or desperation, but we seek him. We may find ourselves in a hot, barren desert, pelted by the sands of life. We may desperately thirst for relief or find an oasis of consolation. We take that journey. We may see the strong light of the star or strain to see that fading light that eludes our eyes. We ask – will he be there? Does Christ exist at all? Yet we know, and we step forward. Just like these three men.
The wonder is what they found. They did not find a King attended by servants, harps playing, dressed in the finest silk. They did not find a bookkeeper Messiah, who keeps track of all your wrongs, adds them up and then dispenses judgment. At the end of their long difficult journey, they found a baby. Lying in a barn surrounded by a tired Jewish carpenter, a young mother, serenaded by cows, sheep and horses.
Imagine the reaction, the incredulous realization in finding God – in a helpless baby. Matthew tells us that with joy they knelt and offered him gifts. They did not question God or attempt to explain it, they realized that God was doing something entirely new and original. I would have been shocked, traveling all this way and finding a baby in a barn. If the journey is hard I want the spectacular movie God, the fireworks, thunderclap, the instant awakening. Yet, deep down we know that God is so much more than our own personal magician or action movie. God never fully reveals himself. We see God in the reflections in our lives. Like light streaming through the stained glass, enveloping our lives slowly, beautifully and softly. God speaks to us in whispers, appears to us in shadows.
We may find God in a manger, while driving to work, in the quiet of silence, in the company of one another. We find Jesus in the poor, the homeless, in holding the hand of a dying friend, sitting with the frail elderly, laughing with a child, in our tears during the darkest of nights. We find God in this Church, the Eucharist, at the end of a heavenly light, in a baby’s wet smile, or the person sitting next to you. All become our own little stables in Bethlehem.
And Matthew tells us that our journey does not end once we find Christ. He said they “departed to their own country by another road." When these three men found what they were looking for, once again, the easy thing would be to stay in that manger, but God expects so much more of us. They had to return for the journey was not complete. And what is more, being in his presence did not mean the return journey was easy. They would face the same misdirection’s, heat, sandstorms, frustrations and exhaustion. But they were different, the Child had changed them, God was with them.
Knowing that God was with him, when he returned home from Bethlehem Balthazar once again opened his heart to love, and I imagine he loved all those around him, family, friends, and strangers with an indescribable love. Caspar found a way to deal with his illness; he endured and served as an inspiration to others who were ill, comforting them in their pain. Melchior who was hopeless, I imagine him smiling telling everyone of how God sent a helpless child full of love, so that each one of us would know that we are loved. And as he told the story, he showered those around him with smiles, peace and blessings. He who was without hope gave hope. Each one brought Christ to the world because as Augustine said, “Christ is the bread seeking hunger.”
When we bring our whole being to the Lord, our longings and then we lay our gifts at his feet, our compassion for others, service to the poor, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, we become different. And then we go back, we find that the road is different. It will lead us to new paths of faith, service and devotion. Roads we never thought we would travel. That is why this is called the Epiphany, the sudden realization.
God brings newness and possibility to each step we take in our lives. It tells us that from the very beginning Jesus is to be personally experienced, no just thought of, looked upon, discussed, proved, accepted or argued. Like those wise men, seek Christ. That despite the pain of the journey, the naysayers, and the challenges, the road is worth it. The journey, will always lead us to where we belong – With God. And when we get there with joy, offer the precious gifts that God gave you to God and one another and then reach out and grasp the hand of the holy one. Your journey, your life will never be the same.