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What interested the magi in Jesus? They were looking for something transcendant; something they could not find in their lives.
They were extremely knowledgeable men. They knew the science of the stars, they knew politics and geography. They knew what the stars should look like, and saw when something was amiss, and wanted to find out why. They knew how to go halfway across the world into foreign lands, and had the means to put together an expedition to do just that.
The magi must have been substantial men. They had the credibility not just to converse with King Herod but to be sought out by him — and they had the self-confidence to ditch him when they chose.
So why would these men go so far to see Jesus?
They explain why in their own words: Because he was “the newborn king of the Jews” and they “have come to do him homage.”
In other words, they had found that something was missing from their life, something that transcends science, travel and politics.
How did they know it was Jesus Christ they were missing?
The Gospel passage shows several ways they found it. The wise men knew the way to find it through the star — the indicator the cosmos gave. Herod confirmed it by assembling “the Church” — chief priests and scribes who pointed to Bethlehem. Ironically, the magi knew they were on the right path precisely because Herod, the evil king, was so anxious to know what they found.
But ultimately what convinced the Magi was what they saw with their own eyes.
Not just the stars and the politics and the geography pointed to Christ. Something about the Holy Family — a carpenter, his wife, and child — convinced them. So they prostrated themselves and placed expensive, mysterious gifts before him, gifts which can represent the material life (gold) the spiritual life (incense) and the afterlife (myrrh, used to prepare the dead).
They found the Christ child, and recognized him as the king of the Jews, and also as the center of their life today, tomorrow and hereafter.
We each have the same journey to make.
We too have something missing in our lives, despite all the education and material comfort living in America offers compared to much of the rest of the world.
We too can read the signs of the secular world — the need for love and the need for hope that it cries out for.
We too can see the negative attention the world pays to Jesus, like Herod wanting to crush the rival to his attention.
We can also listen to the Church, no matter what our personal experiences with its members are, as it tells us where to find Jesus.
Then, we can spend time with Jesus, Mary and Joseph and see for ourselves how credible they are.
The Christmas Season is a perfect time to take this journey: We can look at the lights, and follow where they lead.
They lead to the altar, where the baby Jesus quietly proclaims with his presence that love — divine love — is the thing we have been missing all along.