"When they had heard the king, they set out: and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at it rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was."
"They set out..." that's what has captured me this Epiphany.
They just started walking. And walking. And walking.
It reminds me of when Forrest Gump
famously quips, "That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of the town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama. And that's what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on goin'. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on goin'. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on goin'.
Really the only difference between the magi and Forrest Gump is WHY they started. Forrest says there was no particular reason for running, although if you know the movie well and delve into Gump's psyche we could say the reason he was running was because he was conquering his limitations, and because his heart was breaking, and maybe he was running towards something he had yet to figure out.
Regardless. Forrest ran for a long, long time. Across America, in fact.
And the magi, they walked for a long, long time. Across the Persian Empire, in fact.
Truthfully, we don't know exactly where the magi came from. It could've been somewhere on the Arabian peninsula, maybe the Kingdom of Sheba (basically modern day Yemen), or somewhere in the Persian Empire, some even say China. We don't really know. But we do know, they walked a long way, most likely between 500-1000 miles.
To see Jesus.
Well, to see someone. They didn't really know who.
They expected to see greatness. To see a king. To see a new day dawning.
When they started out they were probably stoked - excited, curious, and hopeful.
But after weeks and weeks of walking, I am sure they began seesawing between fatigue and hallucinations, as they scoured the terrain for caves in which to hide and rest as they ventured through enemy territory.
They hoped for more than just miles and miles of sand and rugged rock, so by the time they actually get to Jerusalem and meet with King Herod, they've already walked across a whole nation. We forget this. Or don't even realize it.
Our presentation of the Christmas story often mirrors the Hallmark Channel, which, by the way, if you didn't know, has a whole line-up of sentimental and overly romanticized Christmas movies all the way through December to add to the sugary- sweetness we all love. I am not really knocking that, it's just it has obscured our vision of Christmas. Jesus was probably close to 2 years old by the time they meet him.
But, we get ahead of ourselves. Back to the walking. And walking. And walking.
I wonder what they talked about?
I feel like if I was the 4th magi in the merry little troupe, "What's for dinner?" would be my first question. McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell... Alright, maybe that's an impractical question given the fact indoor plumbing isn't a thing yet, but it's not an unrealistic vein.
The magi talked about what was for dinner, when they'd take a break, where they would sleep, how much longer they thought it would be. Pretty commonplace things.
And, they also talked about who.
Who they dreamed of meeting at the close of it all.
So much distance crossed in miles, in conversation, in silence, and in prayer by these people.
There really is no magic in this story.
Just a lot of walking. A lot of persistence. A lot of trust. And at the very end, a fair amount of rebelliousness.
I'm struck this year that Epiphany is something we practice; it's not something that happens to us. Not a flash in the pan, not a sunburst of revelation, not filled with angels proclaiming on high, and hardly even about a star.
Epiphany is the revelation of Christ to all nations. And it is also uncovering and discovering the journey which leads to Christ. For the magi I'd venture to guess that much of the revealing occurred as they walked through the darkness, not as they knelt before the baby Jesus.
Getting to Jesus certainly was the point of the journey, but the realization of how desperately they needed Jesus happened while walking.
Not every journey towards Jesus is like the magi's - uphill and through the darkness, but many, if not most are. And I guess the reason I hold fast to the unremarkableness of the magi's story is because it means that at any empty hour I might set out...
Set out with unsure feet, maybe for no particular reason, pressing on with just a glimmer of hope that there might be more...
I have this remarkable 'gift' of over-explaining things. I always want to make sure you 'get' what I'm trying to say and that there's a certain amount of poetry and depth to it, but mostly I'm just trying to say: Keep walking. Or running, for that matter. Even if the star fades. Keep walking. Your journey is not in vain.