Keeping Watch with the Magi

Third Sunday of Advent 2012

by Marjorie George


star xmasBy now, the Magi are likely on their journey.  Coming from the “East,” Matthew tells us, they are following a star. It is a journey of at least several months, and they know only that they are looking for a king – the “king of the Jews” they say.

In actuality, we know very little about the Magi – the Three Wise Men, as we have come to call them. We do not even know for certain that they were three in number; that assumption is based on Matthew’s story that the Magi presented three gifts to the Christ child – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They probably did not arrive at the manger scene when Christ was born, for Matthew says they “entered the house” where Jesus and his mother were.  Perhaps Jesus was as old as two.

Of the gospel writers, only Matthew even mentions the Magi, telling the entire story in the opening 12 verses of chapter two of his gospel. Historians tell us the Magi were probably from Persia (modern-day Iran) and were part scientist, part priest, part astronomer/astrologer. That would not have seemed strange at the time. They were interpreters of dreams and may have been responsible for crowning new rulers who came to power.

Their journey, if they had followed the main trade route of the era, would have taken them along the Euphrates River through what is now Iraq, crossing over the harsh and desolate Syrian desert, and passing through the lush Jordan Valley before arriving at the gates of Jerusalem. They would have gone through small towns and large cities where they didn’t speak the local language. They would have found themselves to be foreigners, and they might have been met with hostility as likely as with hospitality.

They had set out not really knowing for whom they were searching, where they were going, what they would find, or how long it would take.  But they had seen a star, and they couldn’t not follow it. 

The question for us is – What is the star that each of us follows? What is the dream we have been given? What’s the voice that beckons us forward to something unexplainable that we know in our heart of hearts is the path to which we are called? For what are we willing to set out on a journey we know not where it leads? For that is the journey of the soul in search of God.

Thomas Merton’s famous poem begins, “Mr Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot be certain where it will end . . .” (click here for the entire poem). The spiritual journey, someone has said, is like driving at night.   You can only see as far as the headlamps, but you can make the entire trip that way.

Our journey may take us to places we would rather not go where the people around us no longer understand what we are saying nor we them. There may be mountains and valleys and harsh, dry deserts along the way. The journey may take so much longer than we had planned for it to be.

What would be worth such a journey? If it is anything less than to see the person of Christ himself, we might ask ourselves if this is the path we really want to be on.

Whatever their reason for seeking the one to whom the star beckoned them – and it might have been political or diplomatic, not at all religious or spiritual – when the star stopped, the Magi were overjoyed. Then they entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, and “they knelt down and paid him homage” and gave to him from their treasure chests. When they returned home, they took another way than that by which they had arrived.  For their lives had been changed. They had met the Christ; the culmination of the journey had far surpassed anything that even these wise and holy men could have imagined.

As we approach the manger of the Christ child, now in a little more than a week, may we also be watchful for the star that God has set over us and which he beckons us to follow. May we have strength and courage for the journey and make it in the sure and certain knowledge that the One who leads us will bring us to himself; and that is all the journey we ever need to make.


Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at


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