What if you had never heard the Christmas story?
What if you heard the story for the first time? A story about God being born as a baby to a poor young virgin girl, being wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a feed trough. What would you think of angels visiting shepherds, hovering overhead with good news of this baby, born for them – for you? What if you joined them, pressing around the manger, trying not to step in the manure left by the animals, peeking to see this child?
What if you were from far away, from a place where Yahweh, the great God Almighty, and prophets and messiahs were as foreign to you as you were to that child’s people? How would you respond if a blindingly brilliant light appeared in the sky? Would you see it as a sign that you felt compelled to follow? Would you hear the mystery of a birth, of a Son, and know that you had to find him, even if it meant traveling for weeks or perhaps months – even if you didn’t know where to go?
Maybe you would pack your car with supplies, close your house up, and hit the road. Maybe you would see this star and decide that, wherever it led you, you would go. Maybe the idea of finally finding the thing that would fill that empty place in your heart that you’d been trying to make whole or at least patch up for so long would be enough to lure you away from your day-to-day existence and lead you to set out for places unknown. Maybe the promise would feel so powerful, the anticipation so great, that you would be eager to pursue the light of that star until you saw it again.
Perhaps you would be willing to request an audience with the king to ask his help in finding this new king. And when that king’s words seemed mysteriously threatening as they asked you to return with news of the child, perhaps you, too, would head home by a different road. And perhaps you would be filled with joy at seeing that star again, appearing in the sky when you arrived in Bethlehem, seeming to twinkle and cast its brilliance directly onto this child promised as king of the Jews.
How would you respond if you had news of this baby? What would you do?
Those travelers Matthew wrote of – call them wise men or magicians or magi, it really makes no difference – were not born into the tradition of Yahweh God. They were not members of the tribe of Israel, not claimed as the children of God. Yet, watching the heavens for signs of significant events, they were the ones who saw that brilliant star rise above the horizon and somehow knew that the promised ruler of Israel had been born.
They were astrologers from a foreign land, these men who were the first to acknowledge Jesus as God’s anointed king. With this revelation of Christ, they immediately set out to pay him homage. Jerusalem seems a logical place to start, but what they find there is King Herod, an earthly ruler anxious at the threat this new “king” might pose to his power and authority. From the chief priests and scribes, the magi learn where this king is to be born, and so they leave for Bethlehem. Once there, the brilliant star that provoked their journey returns, stopping over the place where the child was.
We don’t know how many years these wise men had been seeking a sign of promise for their world. We don’t even know why they were looking. But they were. With deep inner longing, they make their way to the most fulfilling destination imaginable. They did not come from the right place. They were not kin to the right people. They did not know the same name for God, but still they yearned for a connection with the living God. Faced with the revelation of Jesus Christ, they respond.
Kneeling there in the dust and muck of the stall, they unbundle their gifts and present them to the babe. First among all Gentiles are they “to recognize the coming of this Messiah and to foreshadow the comprehensiveness of the coming kingdom he will one day proclaim.”
St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee, O Lord.”
In our desire for reunion with our creator, the author of our lives, the lover of our souls, we are all alike. We come to the manger by different paths, but all of us are prompted to come by God. God initiates our asking, our seeking, and our finding.
Perhaps you will see a brilliant star rise into the sky one evening, a star that outshines all others and seems to draw you in with its light. Perhaps the star will seem to reflect the glorious joy you feel. Perhaps that star will illuminate the darkest of places, the darkest of times. Seeing that star, will you be able to remain still?
The wise men had only a rumor to go by. But it moved them to make that long journey.
How will we respond? On this day, on which we celebrate Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the whole world in his birth, we will receive the Body and Blood of Christ in his holy and blessed Sacrament – another Epiphany, another Christmas Day, another manifestation and application of Christ to ourselves. “Make good your Christmas day, that Christ be born in you, and he who died for you will live with you all the year, and all the years of your lives.”
 Stephen Bauman, Feasting on the Word C/1, 216
 Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word C/1, 217
 John Donne, “The Showing Forth of Christ,” Watch for the Light, 302