The words of Isaiah exhort the people of Jerusalem to rise up in splendor because their light has come and the glory of God is shining on them. Thick clouds and darkness may cover the peoples, but on Jerusalem the light shines. This radiant light will draw nations and rulers, and their scattered sons and daughters will gather to the light. Their hearts will throb with joy at what they behold, foreigners arriving bearing gifts and the wealth of the nations and the riches of the sea brought to them.
Matthew uses this imagery in constructing the story of the coming of the Magi. They come from afar, from the East. They are looking for a king. They reckon that this one is special because they have seen his star at its rising. They travel to Jerusalem where they expect to find the newborn king. There is no mention that the star led them there. However, when redirected to Bethlehem they see that same star and follow its lead to the house where they find Mary and the child.
This too is a heart throbbing experience for the foreigners for they ‘are overjoyed at seeing the star’. But this light is not in Jerusalem. Jerusalem remains in darkness under Herod, the King of Jews who wants to be rid of the child, the king who is not even sure of his history and so must consult others. This star causes no heart throbbing excitement for Herod, only fear for the threat it might pose to his own petty power. His Jerusalem does not know the light. His leadership ensures that.
The story illustrates that God is not confined to any human tradition. There is a new order with the coming of the Messiah. It is strangers who are accepted now as the people who can recognize the light and the presence of God. There is no longer a ‘chosen people’ but all are chosen people, invited into the heart throbbing light.
While it would appear that a positive response to such an invitation is a ‘no brainer’, nevertheless we find that there is some Herod and some Magi in most of us. Sometimes the light which illumines our way excites and delights the soul. Sometimes it is too bright in the darkness of life, and its light dazzles and hurts the inner eyes. Everything can be seen in the bright light, even what we might prefer not to see. Herod chose to stay in the darkness and tried to shut out the demands of the light. The Magi entered the light overcome with joy, and they returned to their country ‘by another way’.
In the challenges of this world, what a difference it would make to enter the light overcome with joy, and continue the human journey by another way.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP