“…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 are come to worship him’ “ (Matthew 2:1,2).
The Star of Bethlehem has caught and stirred the imagination of the centuries. There is always a sense of mystery and wonder about the stars which makes itself felt with an even greater intensity in the East, when the night comes silently and suddenly upon the deserts of Asia. This quality of all stars attached in a supreme degree to the Star of Bethlehem. It may have been caused by the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn or possibly more likely it was a comet with a long tail. (1) Whatever it was, it led the Wise Men from a distant country to worship the Infant Christ and the world received its earliest assurance that he was born to save, not the Jews alone, but all humankind of every people and nation, including ourselves.
The Wise Men, who were astrologers from Persia, spent many quiet hours studying and observing and plotting the stars in their courses, but the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem startled them out of their academic calm. They knew not only that a mighty King was born but that the star which hailed his Birth beckoned them to leave their learned studies and set out into the unknown to pay him their homage. From the moment the star appeared, nothing was so important now as to follow it wherever it might lead them.
Their camels were saddled and, carrying their precious gifts, they began the most exciting journey of their lives. And as each night fell there was the star burning brightly in the distance ahead, calling them to press on with all speed. And so, travelling by night and resting by day, they crossed the desert sands until at last they rested their camels at the gate of Jerusalem. Their journey they thought was ended and they prepared to stay a while in this city in the hills.
Although they were honourably received by no less a person than King Herod himself, nevertheless when they learnt that Bethlehem was their journey’s end, their intention to remain in Jerusalem was at once set aside. They mounted their camels once more and guided by the star came to the house where the Christ Child was. There they fell down and worshipped him, and when they had opened their treasures they presented to him their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh – gifts which symbolised the offering of themselves.
The star which called them to offer themselves to Our Blessed Lord in Bethlehem seems far more out of the ordinary to us than it did to them. They would have been surprised only by its unusual appearance for it occurred as part of their everyday work. In the same way our call to give ourselves to God rarely comes in an out of the way manner. The star that beckons us to Christ appears in many of the usual happenings of our daily life: perhaps it is some inward prompting too insistent to be ignored, or the influence of someone we admire or respect; or perhaps some chance remark may put into words what we have long known in our hearts to be true and forbids us to hesitate any longer.
But whatever form the star may take it beckons us to follow it to the end. There are many who are grudging and half-hearted and follow it only part of the way; who set out to find Our Lord, but who fail in their search because they refuse to give themselves to him completely; who get as far as Jerusalem but never find Bethlehem. The Wise Men pressed on to Bethlehem because their search for the King of kings meant more to them than anything else in the world.
So religion, a person’s relationship with his or her Maker and God, is the central issue in human life, compared with which all else must be of secondary importance. But it is a very common temptation to separate one’s worship from one’s daily life; to label Sunday, or part of Sunday, for God, and the rest of the week for oneself, instead of using the rest of the week as a means of offering oneself and one’s life to him. Yet it is that which proves the quality and reality of one’s worship. For at the end of the Sunday Eucharist, when Our Lord has gathered us all together before his Father’s Throne, God sends each single one of us, with his blessing, back into the world again, there to man as faithful soldiers and servants our particular outpost of the Kingdom of God.
It is only when we cast all reserve to the wind and surrender our personal freedom by giving ourselves day by day to Our Lord for him to own and rule, it is only then that we know him, not from hearsay, but from experience.
But we must not rest content and satisfied in that good state. When we have followed our star to the end and have found Our Lord in Bethlehem and worshipped him and made to him the offering of our life, then we must seek out others and be their Star of Bethlehem to guide them also to the house of the Holy Family. And this reminds us that we may find an opportunity ready to hand among our own family, and relations and friends. Most of us can think of someone with whom we are on familiar terms who either takes no part in the worship of the Church or has lapsed from Holy Communion. If so, encourage them and try to bring them along with you.
The parents of young children have a still greater responsibility for they are, or should be, Stars of Bethlehem to their sons and daughters to lead them to offer themselves to Christ. The Church has their children only for a short time each week and therefore her influence is limited. But the influence of the home is great and continual for good or ill. Nothing can be more encouraging than when parents bring their children to church with them and worship as a united family. What counts is a clear-cut example of faith and practice and devotion.
For we shall never bring others to Our Lord or to take their full part in the life and worship of the Church unless our own star is shining steadily and brightly. Unless we ourselves are really devoted in our practice of the Christian Faith and are seen to be so, our star will shine dimly and in vain. Every Christian is liable at times to be half-hearted and no one is attracted by half-heartedness. We have to show that Our Lord means everything to us before we can make him mean anything to anyone else.
So, at the beginning of this New Year, as we come in spirit with the Wise Men and kneel and offer ourselves to God, let us resolve to make that offering apply effectively to every part of our life, so that our star may so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven.
Humphreys, C. (2009) ‘The star of Bethlehem’, in Alexander, P. and D. The Lion handbook to the Bible, Oxford: Lion Hudson plc, page 553.