Despite the scant historical information about the wise men who visited Jesus shortly after his birth, these mysterious visitors have become larger than life figures in the Christmas story. Of the many people who no doubt encountered the Lord during his infancy years, we only hear of a few: Simeon and Anna, the shepherds, and the magi. The magi, believed to have been Zoroastrian priests, hailed from foreign lands and practiced a gentile religion. Their presence in the Gospel story consequently serves as a strong reminder of the universal nature of salvation. All of us, from the many diverse and sundry places in which we find ourselves, in every walk of life, are all called to communion with God.
Finding and living out this communion sometimes involves embarking on a journey without knowing where it will take us. We do, however, know whom we are seeking.
Following the star involves a journey of both body and soul. The wise men didn’t come upon the Lord by accident, but as the result of an intentional trek that involved self-awareness and openness of mind and heart, in addition to time, energy and distance. In the end, the desires of their hearts were rewarded.
The feast of the Epiphany isn’t only a moment to remember the wise men, but an opportunity to learn from them, and become the wise men of today. Here are a few ways we can follow their example:
1) Know your needs.
The magi knew their richness, but they also knew their poverty and their need for a Savior. We all have needs, both practical and existential, and many of those needs can only be met when we enter into communion with other people, and ultimately, with God. Knowing our needs is the beginning of wisdom.
2) Simplify your desires
According to G.K. Chesterton, “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” Although the magi surely had the ability to do the former, they chose to set an example of the latter, and prioritized one thing only: setting their eyes upon the Savior. Rather than scrambling to acquire more, they left behind what they had and set out on an unknown journey. And, sure enough, they have been remembered throughout the ages not for their wealth or status, but for the single moment in which their desire was fulfilled and they laid eyes upon the Lord.
3) Look for grace in unexpected places
While we don’t know everything about the magi, it is likely that they were of the royal priestly caste in the Zoroastrian tradition. And yet, their hearts and minds were open enough to recognize and worship a Savior born among the Jews. God can surprise us. Moments of grace, consolation, and understanding await us in unexpected times and places; we are blessed when we recognize this and are able to accept the many, many ways God can make himself present to us throughout life.
4) Be prepared and have your wits about you
Think ahead. Be prudent and flexible. The wise men arrived bearing gifts fit for a king. They may not have known exactly where their journey would bring them, but they knew whom they sought, and were prepared for meeting him. Likewise, after having met with Herod and sensing his antagonism toward Jesus, they prudently returned home by a different route.
5) Take time to gaze upon the Lord
The journey to God is a combination of your effort and his guidance. Willingness, preparation and endurance depend on you. Moments of encountering the Lord face to face depend on God’s grace. When you sense his presence, through a moment of prayer, a conversation, a silent experience with a loved one, relish the moment and take the time to contemplate the face of God. This is true wisdom.