Every Christmas we ready ourselves for the birth of our Lord with lights, lights, and more lights. We string lights on Christmas trees, wreaths, and nativity sets; we outline windows, rooftops and walkways. We decorate our downtown trees and light poles with lights and some neighborhood yards are aglow with lighted reindeer, snowmen, and nativity scenes. Our desire to celebrate Christmas with lights brings to mind the very first words God spoke in Creation “Let there be light!” (Gen. 1:3)
As we continue to celebrate this Octave of Christmas and as Epiphany draws near, there is a deeper and more profound light to discover – it’s the light discovered by the three kings. Let us start with the very first Christmas light that was emitted by “His star.”(Matt.2:2) The prophecy says, “I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel.” Numbers 25:17
All the Jewish scribes and scripture scholars of Israel missed this special light that was emanating from “His star.” But not the three kings. While Matthew 2:1 calls them, “Magi from the East” other prophetic scriptures refer to them as kings, “Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you…Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shinning radiance…Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.’” (Isaiah 60:1-14) In 2005 during World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI venerated the relics of Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar at the Cathedral of Cologne saying, “It was as though they had always been waiting for that star. It was as if the journey had always been part of their destiny and was finally about to begin.”
Just as Joan of Arc was born to liberate France and Constantine was born to free Christians during the Roman persecution, the vocation of the three kings was to follow a star that would change their lives as prophesied in sacred scripture: “May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Arabia and Seba offer gifts. May all kings bow down before him, all nations serve him…Long may he live, receiving the gold from Arabia.” Psalm 72:10-15
The burning light from this star burned in the souls of these men. The Church Fathers St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom write in their sermons that the journey the three kings undertook lasted two years.
They came from different countries and from the ends of the earth with one burning question in their hearts. This question would persuade them to leave their kingdom, their treasure, and the comforts of their life. This question would so consume them day and night that they were willing to endure, danger, difficulty, discomfort, and displacement from their very thrones. The question is and was for all Christians, “Where is the new-born King of the Jews.” (Matthew 2:2) Pope Benedict XVI says that for this reason they “Never yielded to discouragement or the temptation to give up and go home. Now that they were so close to their goal they had no other question than this.”
As they neared the source of light, the star suddenly disappeared from their sight. St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom also note the stars disappearance in their writings. The life of the three kings is darkened. There was no light to follow. Did they give up and lose hope after being away from their homes for two years? No, in their zeal they dared to speak with Herod, “We saw his star at his rising and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) History tells us that Herod not only killed all the children two years of age and younger trying to destroy Jesus but he even put his adult sons to death when they threatened his throne. Therefore, these three kings, having lost sight of the star, risked everything in approaching Herod about the question smoldering in their hearts.
God is always there when we are searching for him, but we must do our part by praying and discerning the signs in finding our true vocation via this special Christmas star that sheds light into our dark hearts. Pope Benedict XVI says, “We must seek this star, we must follow it. The ultimate goal of the journey can only be found through an encounter with Christ, an encounter which cannot take place without faith.” As soon as the three kings leave Herod’s presence, the star reappears: “And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them… they were overjoyed at seeing the star.” (Matt. 2:9-10)
If they were overjoyed it was because earlier they had experienced doubts, reservations, and fears in their hearts at having lost sight of the star. But they didn’t give up. They were obedient to the desire in their heart to seek the star. Pope Benedict XVI says, “The Magi reach Bethlehem because they had obediently allowed themselves to be led by the star. Learn to observe the signs with which God is calling and guiding us. When we are conscious of being led by him, our heart experiences authentic and deep joy as well as a powerful desire to meet him and a persevering strength to follow him obediently.”
After two years the three kings finally complete their journey and thus discover their true vocation as one of the first believers, worshippers and witnesses of Jesus. “The star…came and stopped over the place where the child was…They prostrated themselves and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matt. 2:9-12) St. Peter Chrysologus describes their experience this way, “The magi are filled with awe by what they see; heaven on earth and earth in heaven; man in God and God in man; they see enclosed in a tiny body the One whom the entire world cannot contain.”
At the end of the journey, they no longer needed the star to return home since they now have the true light of Jesus in their hearts lighting their way. Jesus himself had become for them, “…the bright morning Star.” (Rev. 22:16). They can now go peacefully via another route. The practical reason for taking a different route was to flee Herod; but the spiritual reason is once we encounter Jesus, our lives change and we can no longer pursue the same path we were traveling. Moreover, these kings had received, a much greater treasure than the ones they brought, “The morning star that rises in your hearts.” (2 Pet. 1:20) We too need to find our true vocation in life and preserve that light. We too must leave our old route of sin and never return the same way we came so that we can nourish and guard the new light of Christ that is in our hearts.
During this Christmas Octave and as Epiphany draws closer, let us take time to look at all the Christmas lights and stars all around you. Let us ask Jesus for the special light of grace to discover “the newborn King” truly present in what appears to be bread but is really the “King of kings and Lord of lords”. (Rev. 19:16) Let us ask Him to reveal our vocation as His believers, worshippers, and witnesses of His Eucharistic Presence. And once having found Him, let us offer him the “Gold of your freedom, the incense of your ardent prayer, and myrrh of your most profound affection.” (St. Pope John Paul II)