While I was a graduate student at Ole Miss and a Spanish teacher at Greenville Weston High School, I studied one summer at a Spanish language Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica. I found a parish a couple of miles from the Institute where I could walk to mass. There were no street signs or addresses marked anywhere in the city, so I found my way around using my knowledge of the neighborhood. My first time going to mass, I found the parish quite easily, but it was already dark when I got out. On my way home, I must have taken a wrong turn, because in a short while, I was completely lost. I tried to retrace my steps, but I became more confused and more frustrated. I stopped at least a dozen people for directions; they were all very friendly, but no one could point me in the right direction. I became very exasperated, not knowing where to turn. I finally got into a taxi, Within a few blocks, I recognized where I was and found my way back.
Just like how I got lost in Costa Rica, I’m sure most of us have been lost at one time or another. When we're lost, we yearn for a sign to point us in the right direction. The Magi had a sign as they traveled from afar to honor the Son of God born in a distant land: a star guided them to exactly the right place. It wasn't just any star that the Magi followed in their search for God: it was “his” star, the star of the child Jesus. Isaiah describes a darkness that separated the people from God's glory: the star's light directed the Magi through this darkness. In the midst of his chosen people, Israel, God revealed his glory. Isaiah prophesied: “Nations shall come to your light, kings to the brightness of your dawn.” So, Magi from a faraway nation came to the light of Christ’s birth that burned so brightly in the midst of the earth's darkness.
The story of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus is a vivid part of Christmas season, but it's so much more than an enthralling story.Ultimately, the story of the Magi has its deepest significance in what it tells about the early Christian communities & what it tells us about ourselves as modern believers in Christ.
The early Church knew that the Magi were not Jews, that they did not have the Hebrew Scriptures to provide them knowledge and understanding about the birth of Christ. However, the Magi read the signs that God sent them. Perhaps the gifts that the Magi brought don't seem appropriate for an infant, but the early Church saw their symbolic value: gold for virtue, frankincense for prayer, myrrh for suffering – all appropriate for a baby who would be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. The journey of the Magi, Gentiles from the East, and their homage of the Christ child, told the early Church that salvation and redemption through Christ is open to all, not just the Jews. Today's psalm refrain reflects the inclusiveness of God's offer of salvation to all that is present in the story of the Magi: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”
The Magi aren't the only people of faith who make an incredible journey in order to honor and glorify the kingship of Christ. Indeed, as believers, we all make a journey of faith to the baby Jesus. We have examples throughout history and in our own day of journeys near and far that the faithful have made searching for the baby Jesus. You have heard me talk about how my missionary work was inspired by the many examples Jean de Brebeuf & the other Jesuit priests who left Europe in the early 17th century to bring the Gospel to the native tribes of present-day Canada. Jean de Brebeuf had a deep calling to be a missionary, to bring Christianity to those who didn't yet know Christ. Although he died for the faith like so many other missionaries, his legacy lives on in the Church he helped establish in Canada and in the Huron Carol, a Christmas song he wrote in the native Huron language. It is the oldest Christmas carol that we know of in North America. The Huron Carol depicts the wise men as native American chiefs, traveling to pay homage to the Christ child wrapped in rabbit skins, giving him gifts of fox and beaver pelts.
Jean de Brebeuf was called to be a missionary, to give up his life for our faith: his witness still calls out to us today. But, how does the story of the Magi call to our imagination and to our faith? How are we called to be like the Magi? Well, we're all unique, bringing our own gifts & the reality of who we are to our faith. We don’t bring gold, frankincense & myrrh to Christ today, but we're called to lay down our own unique gifts at the feet of the baby Jesus: our talents, our time, our riches, our love and our care for one another. We also have stars in our own lives guiding us – such as the Holy Spirit, our dreams, our prayers, the ways we see Christ in others and in our world.
Like the Magi, our own journey of faith calls out to us to search for the Christ Child in the world, It calls us to search for a mystery that we will never fully understand. Yet, like the Magi, we continue to search, to wander, to wonder. For the mystery that we ultimately find is not in some lofty ideal, or in a principle, or in a theory, but in the very person of Christ, in the child that was born in the manger in Bethlehem.