“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
Have you ever been on a journey? A really long journey? One that requires snacks, a playlist, and multiple stops at various service stations along the way? One where you didn’t really know where you were going, so you needed Google Maps (or a good old fashioned paper map) to help you get there?
The Wise Men had a journey a bit like this, only it was probably significantly more uncomfortable (a camel is no heated car seat!), more dangerous (thieves and bandits were rife), and with a navigation system that was more difficult to follow (I don’t know of any stars that tell you to “turn left in 300 yards”!). Yet, these men saw a sign that they could not ignore, got on their camels and made the journey. Even though that weren’t entirely sure where they were going or how long it was going to take. They probably asked themselves many times “are you SURE this is the right star?!”.
The Star was something that had been talked about for many, many years. We can even find mention of it in the book of Numbers 24:17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel”.So, the Magi were actively looking out for this star that they knew would signify the birth of a king. What they didn’t know was where the star would lead them, or how long it was going to take to get there. The scriptures did give some answers, for example, in Micah 5:2 we read “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rules of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel”, which gives an indication that Bethlehem is probably going to be where they want to be aiming for, but they had no set co-ordinates to be following. There was no 100% proof that they would find what they were looking for.
What they did have though was faith. They had faith that the sign was from God and that it would lead them to where they needed to be. So, they got on their camels and set off.
The star got them to Jerusalem, where they made a trip to visit King Herod. After all, it would be the most logical place to start, at the palace! However, as we read in Matthew, there’s a plot twist: King Herod was not the father of the new King of the Jews. In fact, Herod knew nothing about it and was so disturbed by the news, that he ordered every baby boy under the age of 2 to be killed so that this new king could not overthrow him (Matthew 2:16).
The Wise Men, unaware of the danger their visit to King Herod had caused, carried on with their journey to find Jesus. However, God being all-knowing, was very much aware of Herod’s plans, and warned the Wise Men to not return to Herod to share the location of Jesus with him as he’d asked, rather to return to their home country via another route. Now the Magi could have ignored the dream, perhaps excusing it as a dodgy piece of ingested cheese. Going home via Jerusalem would have been the quickest and most direct route. Besides, Herod had seemed quite nice to them, so why not go back that way. But the Magi had faith that this was a direct command from God, and chose to be obedient to his command. In doing so, they gave Mary and Joseph time to escape with Jesus, saving his life and therefore, the whole of humanity. They couldn’t have known that their simple act of obedience would have had such a profound influence on the course of history.
I think that the journey of the Wise Men to Bethlehem can teach us a lot about journeys we have to take (spiritually and physically!). When God asks us to go in a certain direction, it can be scary. Navigating the unknown can be anxiety-inducing. It can be very tempting to just stay where we are, in the warm and comfort.
But we are not called to a life of comfort and ease. We are called to a life of sacrifice. That could be anything from half an hour less in bed or switching the TV off earlier so that you can read your bible instead; cutting down on some luxuries so that you can give more to those in need; getting out of your comfort zone and talking to your friends and colleagues about God; or it could be something bigger like moving job, home or country.
Making a journey that we believe God has called us to make, but that we cannot see the end to, that is potentially dangerous, that is unknown terrain is hard. But we need to follow the star. Just as God did not abandon the Magi in the middle of their journey, so He will go with us the whole way. He may only show us one step at a time, but He will guide us if we only remember to look up.
So what journey is God asking you to make, and will you Follow That Star?