THE STAR IN THE EAST
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and we are come to adore Him.”
1. We are here in touch with one of those mysterious events in the life of our Lord which baffle all human comprehension. We set aside the miracles and other supernatural interferences such as the apparitions of angels, which are “natural” enough in the wider sense; apart from these are one or two scenes before which human criticism is wholly baffled. This visit of the Magi is one; the Transfiguration is another; the falling down of the mob before our Lord in the Garden is a third; the culmination of them all is found in the Resurrection. For miracles and other like events rationalism has found self-satisfying explanation; for these it has no explanation, it can only say that they did not happen. Even Catholic science adds little to our knowledge. It can only guess; and if at times an astronomer works out a theory about the star, or a geographer tells us whence the Magi came, we can only add that possibly there may be something in what they say, but that every theory hitherto adduced bristles with difficulties and objections.
2. Who were these Wise Men? We do not know. Whence did they come? We do not know. How had they their knowledge? We do not know. What led them to Jerusalem instead of, say, to Alexandria, or Athens, or Rome, or even to their own capital, wherever that may have been? We do not know. All we do know is that out of the darkness of the surrounding paganism there suddenly emerged, not some stray numbers of the Chosen People, not some of those wanderers who still abode weeping by the waters of Babylon, but utter strangers, aliens in blood and creed, to whom everything Jewish was unknown, who, from their language at least, might be supposed to be astrologers, worshippers of a kind that were classed in the utter condemnation of idolatry. “We have seen His star, we pagans, we sages, we outcasts, we despised Asiatic Gentiles. And we have come to adore in what way we know how; not in your temple, not according to your Mosaic rite, but in what way we know how, as pagans can.” What a lesson and a warning is here!
3. The story finds its anticipation in another story in the Old Testament, and the one may very well be the key to the other. The Jews were making their way to the Promised Land. A pagan prophet, a heathen, was called upon to curse them. He came, but in spite of himself his words could only frame a blessing; and his blessing was one of the most detailed prophecies that the Old Testament contains. “I shall see him,” he cried, “but not now. I shall behold him, but not near. A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel, and shall strike the chiefs of Moab, and shall waste all the children of Seth.” One grand thought at least rises out of this mystery. Though the Jews were indeed the Chosen People, yet all mankind was God’s people none the less. Though the Jews had “Moses and the prophets,” yet all men had also the guiding hand of God upon them. Though the Jews lived in the sunlight of God’s favour, yet even in the darkness around there were still God’s moon and stars. And, thank God, the same is true to-day. Even in the darkness God is there.
Summary Meditation Points:
- We cannot hope to fathom this mystery of the Magi and their coming.
- They prove to us that God’s guiding hand was not taken from the pagan world.
- They fulfill the prophecy of Balaam.
Art: Detail from The Star of Bethlehem (One of the Magi, from the Terrace of his House, stands looking at the Star in the East), Frederic Leighton, 1862, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons. Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., www.stmaryscadoganstreet.co.uk, all rights reserved, used with permission.