No manger scene would be complete without the statues of the three kings from the East. Though the Bible does not tell us where they came from or what race they were, we typically portray them as a white, a black and an Asian man. They are meant to represent all the nations and peoples of the world coming forward to worship the newborn King of the Jews who is destined to be the Savior of the World. They represent the plan of God to bring about peace by uniting women and men of every language and race through faith in Jesus Christ. The Magi are the first outside of Israel to be drawn to Christ and to bow down in homage to him who came to save all peoples.
Who were these men and how was it that they came to find Jesus in so obscure a place as a stable in Bethlehem? Scholars tell us that they were most likely from Persia, which is modern-day Iran. They were experts at studying the stars to predict the future and at interpreting dreams. According to their religion, God was a God of light, and they believed they could know him and discern his will by studying the light of the stars. The Scriptures tell us, furthermore, that they were good and sincere men who sought the truth. It was because of their love for the truth that they left their native land and the practice of their religion to follow the star which announced the birth of Jesus. They undertook the dangerous journey through the desert at great personal cost to witness with their own eyes the birth of the King of the Jews and to worship him. Though they were pagans, ignorant of the Scriptures and the God of Israel, their goodness and sincerity was noticed by God, and they were given the great grace of being among the first to see Jesus and believe in him.
In today's gospel reading, however, we meet another man who is not as good and sincere as the Magi. He is King Herod. Like the Magi, he was born a pagan in a land called Idumea. However, he converted to Judaism once he was installed as king of Israel by Caesar. Unlike the other kings of Israel - and unlike Jesus - he was not a descendant of the royal line of David. Therefore, he was an impostor, a puppet of the Roman Empire. Because of this he brutally suppressed and killed anyone whom he perceived to be a threat to his authority. In fact, it was even said that he murdered his own sons. And so, when he learns from the Magi that the real king of the Jews had been born, he is determined to find him and kill him. Herod was following a different star than the one the Magi followed. The Magi were following the star of truth and goodness which led them to Jesus. Herod was following the star of ambition and power which would eventually lead to his destruction.
Like the Magi, each of us is following a star. There is something that each of us is after that motivates us and focuses our attention and energy. It could be financial security. It could be power and prestige. It could be the well-being of our family and friends. Whatever it is, we must ask ourselves, "Is this star leading me to Jesus?" Is it making me grow in faith, hope and love? Am I a becoming a more generous person because of the goals I have set for my life? Or is the light that I am following actually leading me into darkness, making me more selfish and putting distance between me and my family? Is it making me less attentive to the needs of others? The beginning of a new year is a good time to examine our conscience and to take an honest look at what stars we are following and where they are leading us. There is one thing we can know for certain: if our star is not leading us to Jesus, then it is leading us astray.
Another important question to ask ourselves is, "Are we stars to others?" Does the way we live our lives lead others to Christ or lead them astray? Are we examples for our family and friends of what it means to know, love and serve God? If people were to follow us, where would we lead them - to Christ or somewhere else? No doubt each of us has someone in our lives who looks up to us for guidance. Are we a light of truth and goodness to those people or are we leading them further into darkness?
The light of the star which led the Magi to Jesus no longer shines in the night sky. We are the light which announces to the world that Jesus is the Savior of the World. We are the ones who must lead others to the place where he may be found. It is up to us now to repeat the glad tidings that God has come to save us. We are to bring that message to all people - the poor and the rich; the lowly and the mighty; the ignorant and the wise. God wants to gather all people together to bring homage to the newborn King, the Savior of the World, the Messiah. Will we follow the light which leads us not only to Bethlehem but to Calvary? And will we be a light for others along the way? If we heed God's call, we can be assured that the result will be a harvest of peace and justice for all the peoples of the world.