TO BE HUMAN NOW: Magi Musings on the Star

Spiritual Reflections by Fr Roderick Salazar SVD (Philippines)

Many years ago, at the beginning of the 1940s,
British poet W.H. Auden who had migrated to
America wrote a long poem, which he originally
wanted to be set to music, though it eventually
remained verse. He titled it For the Time Being.

In a section he calls “The Summons” , W.H. Auden
describes the Gospel story of the Wise Men who saw
the Star of Bethlehem and left their homes in the East
in search of where it might lead them.

Imagine the situation. These mysterious men see
a star – they feel its pull, its majesty, its danger,
its promise – and they step outside their positions
of power and privilege, they take the risk of leaving
comfortable and predictable circumstances to follow
a star. The wise men are exchanging explanations
on why they are doing what they are doing.

“The first wise one comments:
‘To discover how to be truthful now –
is the reason I follow the star.‘

“The second wise man adds:
‘We anticipate or remember but never are.
To discover how to be living now –
is the reason I follow the star.’

“The third wise one, for his part, says:
‘to discover how to be loving now –
is the reason I follow the star.’ ”

And the Three Wise Men say together:
To discover how to be human now
is the reason we follow the star.”

Why did they leave home to follow a star?

To discover how to be truthful now,
to discover how to be living now,
to discover how to be loving now,
to discover how to be human now.

What about me? If there is a star that I am
following, what is my reason for doing so?
What is, in the first place, my star?

I recall the Gospel stories of Christmas.

Mark does not have a Nativity narrative.

He starts out with John (the Baptist) already
a fully grown man, announcing the coming of
One greater than he – the Messiah.

The Christmas Gospel read at Midnight Mass
comes from Luke, a careful reading of which,
sans added and imagined insertions, tells us
that the reason why Joseph and Mary went to
Bethlehem for the census was that the little
town was Joseph’s place of origin, his home.

His relatives could not have turned him and
Mary away so that they had to go to a stable
or a cave where Mary delivered Jesus alone.

Luke does not say any of these things.

Joseph and Mary went to Joseph’s home town
and WHILE THEY WERE THERE, the time
came for her to deliver her first-born Son.

They did not arrive in Bethlehem just as Mary
was to give birth. And there were PEOPLE around.
For when the shepherds told their story about
the angels, Luke says ALL who heard them
were amazed. ALL could hardly refer to
an unmentioned sheep, or donkey, or cow.

So Luke, properly read, says Jesus was born in a home.

John it is who provides the majestic Prologue
“In the beginning was the Word…the Word was God…
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Matthew provides the Gospel we read at Epiphany.
The word means Manifestation because Matthew’s
story says that the Messiah is manifested through
the star that led the Wise Men to Jesus.

That they were Kings and had names, we do
not find in Matthew. He only says “magi”.

That they were “kings” comes from Old Testament texts.
That they were THREE is a conclusion upon reading that
the Child was given gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh.

That they were called Melchior, Caspar, Balthasar,
comes from pious tradition.
A Fourth Wise Man is even added who had his own
gifts prepared. But he missed out on the journey
and the finding of Jesus. Giving his gifts, one by one,
to save a difficult situation, he found Jesus or
Jesus found him at Calvary time. In this his 1895 story,
Henry Van Dyke calls The Other Wise Man, Artaban.

And I, what is my name? What is my gift for the King?
What is the star that I follow, and my reason for
following my star?

To learn to be living, and loving, and human now?

Would to God that I do, and not only learn but live
the reason, the lesson – for all times, in every season.

Howard Thurman reminds and I must heed:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”

When the full moon of the year that passed
shall have waned and completely disappeared
and the stars in the heavens, now outshone,
smile again in fuller splendor, may I see my star.

But even when it, too, is hidden, may I go on
living and loving and being human to be divine
led by the STAR who is already in my heart.

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