Christianity is not “a new philosophy or a new form of morality,” but an encounter with the person of Christ, an event that ignites a personal relationship with Him. Pope Benedict XVI
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.
“They departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:12). Why? I tell you, they returned home by another way not simply because of the warning of the angel, but because they could no longer return by the same way they had come. In their encounter with Christ Jesus, everything changed in the moment of adoration, and nothing would ever be the same again.
The Magi said to King Herod: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage” (Matthew 2:11). To see the star at the moment it ascended the heavens the Magi must have been watching for it and waiting for it intently. Why spend so much time and energy looking for some sign in the heavens? They were restless, weary, uncertain, and ill at ease. Perhaps without realizing it the Magi knew that what Saint Augustine said is true: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” In this way they awaited the advent of God himself.
We today are not the same as the Magi, and yet we are not too different from them, either.
It is true that we are no longer looking for a king, but we are concerned for the state of the world and we are asking: “Where do I find standards to live by, what are the criteria that govern responsible cooperation in building the present and the future of our world? On whom can I rely? To whom shall I entrust myself? Where is the One who can offer me the response capable of satisfying my heart’s deepest desires”?
These are the very questions the Magi asked as they saw the rising of the star. Are they not the same questions we ask?
The Magi abandoned everything they owned and left their homes to be guided by the light of the star, all in the hopes of finding the fulfillment and the answer to all of the deepest longings and desires of their hearts.
Like the Magi, all believers – and young people in particular – have been called to set out on the journey of life in search of truth, justice and love. We must seek this star, we must follow it. The ultimate goal of the journey can be found only through an encounter with Christ, an encounter which cannot take place without faith.
When we, like the Magi, set out on this journey we, too, will learn that the answer to our deepest yearning is not a thing, but a person. My dear friends, “the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only he gives the fullness of life to humanity!”
The Magi felt within their hearts the call of Jesus before they left their homes. Within their hearts they found him and so they set off to meet him because, as Pope Benedict reminds us, “The better you know Jesus, the more his mystery attracts you. The more you discover him, the more you are moved to seek him.”
Arriving at Bethlehem, then, the Magi found him whom they sought and they did what Herod simply refused to do: “they prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Matthew 2:11). Why fall down before this Child? What power has he? He has the power of love. Christ Jesus conquers not with military or political might, but with the tremendous power of love, a love that knows no bounds, a love that is stronger than even death itself. Standing before the one who is Love itself, who abandoned the glory of heaven to be born in a filthy stable, the Magi could stand no longer; they had to bow down before him, they had to give him more than their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Now they have to learn to give themselves – no lesser gift would be sufficient for this King. Now they have to learn that their lives must be conformed to this divine way of exercising power, to God’s own way of being. They must become men of truth, of justice, of goodness, of forgiveness, of mercy. They will no longer ask: How can this serve me? Instead, they will ask: How can I serve God’s presence in the world? They must learn to lose their life and in this way to find it. Having left Jerusalem behind, they must not deviate from the path marked out by the true King, as they follow Jesus.
And so, “they departed for their country by another way” because everything was now different, and for the better.
I ask you then: how has your encounter with Christ Jesus this Christmas changed you? For some I should ask: have you encountered Christ Jesus this Christmas?
The star shines brightly within our hearts even now and in only a few moments, he will come to us. “Present on the altar [will be] the One whom the Magi saw lying in the manger: Christ, the living bread who came down from heaven to give life to the world, the true Lamb who gives his own life for the salvation of mankind.”
We have today a great choice to make: we can either, like the Magi, humble ourselves before the One who humbled himself for us; or, like Herod, we can refuse to be conquered by the power of Love. Herod feared to lose his kingdom to this Baby; what do you fear to lose? The Magi hoped to receive happiness, joy, peace, forgiveness, mercy, and love; what do you hope to gain? Which will you choose: the way of Herod or the way of the Magi? No one encounter Christ Jesus and remain the same as before.
Everything must yield to him. I urge you strongly: Do not be afraid of Christ! Yield to the power of his love and give your life to him. He takes nothing away and he gives you everything! Follow the light of the faith of the Magi – just as they followed the light of the Star – and you will find the only source of happiness for humanity: Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary. Amen.