Matthew 2: 1-12
There’s a very thin line that the magi face in their lives, whether the star stops them short when the encounter Herod or recognizing there’s something and someone more; it hadn’t stopped over Jerusalem but further along. Yet, for many of us on this journey, we become captivated by the draw of the royal palace of Herod. We stop short, as the people of Jerusalem do by an illusion of peace, one brought on by fear rather than love. Yet, it’s comfortable in the palace. We have all that we need and know what we know. Isn’t that what this journey often becomes for us? We become comfortable here, in what we know, around the people that we know, safe and secure, until we find ourselves boxed in to the comforts, no longer wanting to grow and change. It’s the advantage that kids have over us adults, that they continue to have a sense of wonder and adventure, exploring, never satisfied, and looking for something more.
This story that we hear today of the magi or kings or whatever we choose to call them is really you and me. It’s our journey towards faith and love. They must encounter it all in this journey. They feel the heat of the desert, stripping layers off themselves, being with no one other than themselves. They too face the darkness and the unknown, heading out into unfamiliar terrain, looking for something, tapping into that sense of adventure and wonder, where it is that this star would lead them. But they too must confront the illustrious palace of Herod. They are invited into the inner sanctum of Herod. He shows them graciousness. He seeks their counsel and their wisdom. He finds a way to use them for his own benefit, but by now, they know there’s something more. Whereas we often find ourselves settling for the illusion of Herod and his palace in our lives, the magi invite us to a deeper place, a life of mature faith. Yet, this may be the greatest challenge we face in moving to that place because fear becomes what we know that we begin to think the illusion is the truth, is real. The magi know otherwise. We know otherwise, when we don’t allow that sense of wonder and adventure, the desire for more, to die within us. How could we possibly give up the palace when it’s what we know?
Faith is the continuation, that constant hungering for more that drives the magi from the palace to a more humble place where they find themselves today. If there were any illusions of the star stopping over Jerusalem that day, it has all been but lost. The journey they embarked on, into the unknown of God and into the unknown of themselves, leads them to this place, to this newborn king, who seems to promise much more than Herod ever could to them. Herod could hand them everything and it still wouldn’t be enough for what this child can give, a life now rooted in love, which casts out all fear. As a matter of fact, through the love of that child, who is love, and an encounter with the truth in that crib, the magi go home by a different route. Fear is no longer an option. The regalia of the palace is no longer appealing. It’s lost its appeal and all that goes with it. What has died is not the sense of wonder and adventure, the desire for more; all of that has only been given new life. What has died for the magi, and what dies for us in the encounter with this deeper mystery, is a life once known, a life of illusion brought by fear, a life that no longer satisfies the deeper longing of the heart, which leads us, too, on a different route home.
My friends, as we gather on this feast of the Epiphany, the magi point us in a new way, beyond the palace we’ve created for ourselves and the comfort of the known, to a journey into the unknown, the deeper mystery we call love. We know that palace can be very appealing to the eyes, but the heart tells us something more, something deeper that is desired, and calls us to leave that place and move to the place of greater humility, the place of the crib; where the star leads the magi, we too are led. Otherwise, we run the risk of encounters with mystery in new ways. Maybe the encounter comes through person of a different color. Maybe the encounter comes through a person of a different faith or a different way of practicing their faith, a different way of life. The illusion of the palace eventually begins to break down and we seek more in life; what once was lost becomes found, our own magi story, leading us to a place of deeper trust, deeper faith, and deeper love, to continue to allow the incarnation, God made flesh, to change our lives, lead our lives, define our lives, no longer by fear but in and through love.