They were known as magi—most translations call them “Wise men.” In my Scottish Gaelic Bible, they're called “na druidhean:” druids, because “druid” is simply the Gaelic word for someone wise. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, calls them “a band of scholars.” Magi were upper-class academics, trained to read the changing signs of the natural world and interpret their meanings in relation to human history. We may call it fortune-telling, but it was the cutting-edge science of their time. It made them very popular with the ruling elite.
We're now in the midst of Epiphany, the church season that celebrates new light and spiritual awakenings, starting with the story of the magi, following a star. When they saw the new star shining, the one that indicated a new king, and none of the heavenly signs showed any link with Herod's kids, they could have kept it quiet, and kept their jobs. But they didn't. That star led them out of their comfortable quarters, out of their usual circle of colleagues and companions, onto dangerous roads in a caravan packed with costly gifts.
They kept following that star, a star with light more powerful than all the gold in Herod's treasury, a light more compelling than the sharp, shining blades of the Roman guards. And so, in Matthew's gospel, they became the first people to recognize Jesus, to call him both a child and Anointed One, Christ, Messiah, King. They were not Jews. They were not citizens of Judea. They'd been raised with a different language and different beliefs. But they were the ones who showed up, bringing their beautiful, costly gifts, bowing down with honor and praise, their hearts full of wonder and adoration. Those magi may not have realized it, but with the help of the Christ-child and that guiding star, they set the standards for our own spiritual journey: “no matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here.”
Outside the church, there are many fortune-tellers vying for our attention, and many conflicting visions of the best way forward. What star will you follow, in this coming year? What light will guide us on our journey together? On Epiphany Sunday, we reached into a container of paper stars, each with a different word printed on it—and each person drew a “star-word” to meditate on, wonder about, and ponder in prayer, to see where that word leads them during the next twelve months. It's a light-hearted way of joining those magi on their journey—a journey in which anyone, wise or foolish, insider or outsider, may follow a star and find Jesus along the way.
With you on the journey,