This reading about the magi is so familiar we may gloss over it, but if you really stop and think about it, it’s kind of a strange story. It’s full of adventure and intrigue, extraordinary signs and exotic people who come from a mysterious place. What does it have to say to us in our ordinary, non-exotic lives?
Well, a couple of things stay with me from the story: the magi follow the star wherever it leads them, whatever it means, no matter what. And they know evil when they see it and use their clever wit to thwart it. These wise ones are masters of good discernment, if you ask me.
How wonderful it must be to have a sure and certain sign to follow when it comes to seeking God. I don’t know how it is for you, but I struggle to find and follow God. There are probably signs of God’s presence all around me, but it’s so hard to notice them. I want to follow God, whatever that looks like and wherever it leads, but confusion and distractions get in the way. My fear holds me back. And yet, I still long to find God in all of the unlikely and out-of-the-way places where God is present. Knowing that desire (and probably prompting it), God does lead me, and I try to follow, even in my faltering steps. I need God’s help to seek and find.
As to discerning evil, what is of God and what is not, sometimes I can do that, but at other times I’m duped. I recognize the obvious evils in the world – human trafficking, greed, separating children from parents at the US border, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and all of the “isms” – but unlike the magi, I don’t have clever means of thwarting evil. Discerning ways to frustrate oppression is not easy. In my personal life, I want to take people as they are and assume the best of them. However, as well-intentioned as that is, it also makes me naïve. I can be easily taken by others’ deception. How do I stay open and trusting and soft-hearted in a world where some seek to use and to harm? I don’t know.
I don’t know, but I do trust that the same God who sent a powerful sign to the magi also guides us. What if the star was there for all to see – bold and bright in the sky – but only those few wise ones noticed it and followed? Maybe other people could have, had they had the desire and the insight to see it. What if God has placed a star in front of us now, and, if we pray for discernment, we’ll see it too? What if the star is within us?
Also, I see how the magi had each other. They traveled together, discerning the path to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, and then home by another way. When one or two had doubts, there was another in their community to hold the vision before them. When one tired, the others could support and energize. When they finally arrived at the placed marked by the star, they could rejoice together at the presence of God in their midst.
We, too, have each other to travel with. Community at its best stands together beneath the night sky, gazing at signs from God, so let’s mutually discern the way we should go. Let’s use our wit, as well as our energy, vision, and desire for God, to move as one toward the places where Christ is present today. And, as to that which is not from God, let’s move there too and bring God’s love with us. Let’s be stars.
By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP