We are physically and spiritually programmed with the need for a guiding light, an over-arching narrative, a moral point of reference – even more so than a material one.
We read in the Gospel of Matthew:
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”Matthew 2:1-2
Thus, the account of the Wise Men points to a reality far deeper and truer than the story itself. What we have with the Wise Men is actually a microcosm of the Christian experience. The journey of the Magi shows us a representation of our own life’s journey before Jesus Christ, the living God.
The shining Star going before the Wise Men was at once the literal appearing of Christ to the Gentiles, and also the great precursor of Christ’s life and work shining forth in the New Covenant. Just as God led the Israelites by pillar of cloud and fire in the desert, so too did He draw the Wise Men to Him by the Star, and so He shines forth the Light of Christ to all people today by His Church, and to His Church by the marvelous light revealed in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Many will see this light, but only they who follow it can be considered wise.
A star symbolizes this ultimate guide. Without the light of a star, we are lost and blind. Without the direction of a star, we lose our way and can no longer navigate. Without the reference of a point in the distance, we have nothing to aim for, and therefore lose any sense of direction. Without direction, we have no purpose, and without purpose, we fall into chaos and despair.
What Are You Aiming For?
The gravity of Christ’s guiding light is just as obvious in its absence as it is in His presence. We all know what happens to people when their lives have no direction. Most fall into chaos. Their lives move from crisis to crisis, or they fall victim to problems of their own making. They refuse to seriously engage with matters of eternal significance, and instead spend their lives pursuing worthless passions of no lasting value (think many hours of Netflix, video games, social media, or pornography). Maybe from a worldly perspective their lives are going just fine, but spiritually they are empty.
We might say the wayward life is a life held captive to sin. The word “sin” in this context is also no accident. In Greek, the word is translated as “missing the mark” (hamartia), particularly in archery. When we sin, what are we really doing then? We are missing the mark of God’s moral law. And who is the ultimate embodiment of God’s law, the most fulfilled human to ever live? Jesus Christ.
So when we willfully turn our eyes away from Christ’s shining example, what we are actually doing is closing our eyes as we draw the bow. Forget missing the mark. When we reject Christ, we reject the target itself! We take our life’s map and light it on fire. When we continually turn from Christ, the star above us goes dark, and we stumble in the wilderness.
Without Christ’s example to follow, we forever miss the mark and fall captive to sin, because we don’t even know what we’re aiming at anymore! This tragedy is what lies at the heart of a wayward life, and we see a decaying society bearing its rotten fruit all around us.
The Highest Calling
On the other hand, when we join the Wise Men in looking up to that Christmas Star, and obediently follow it, we are continually guided to closer communion with Jesus Christ. That is not to say we no longer sin or miss the mark. But at least we know what we’re aiming at! We may fire our arrow and miss the target, but we can look and see that we missed to the left or to the right, and adjust our aim to get even closer next time. This is the glory of the Christian life, and in Christ, our Sanctification. This is why the Epiphany is deeper than the story of the Wise Men – because we need the light of Christ every single day, or else become lost and aimless. The Epiphany is the dawning of the blessed reality of our New Covenant relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
The journey of the Magi following the Star represents the highest calling to which we can devote our lives: a lifetime of being led to Christ, by Christ. In other words, we look to Christ to light our path and direct our steps to Him. It is one thing to see this Star, but we are only wise when we embark on the journey of our lives using it as our guide. The Star still shines above us – let us look up and follow it!
Image: Rafael, The Transfiguration (1516-1520), detail