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December 26, 2011

The star led the Magi on a journey. Wise as those men were, they knew not the road they were on. Informed by a star, they set out to find a new king and, most naturally, went to the capital of the nation to which the star led.

Nothing was to be found in that centre of power. Instead, the new king was discovered among people of no importance. No rulers, religious leaders or scholars were at Bethlehem – only Mary, Joseph, Jesus and others whose names have been lost in the mist of history.

St. Gregory Nazianzen wrote that when the Magi adored the Christ, the age of astrology came to an end. The stars now moved in a different orbit. The stars no longer governed humanity; a personal loving God now provided the light.

The Magi's journey took them through the halls of power, but they came home by a different path. Their act of adoration had transformed them. They had seen the face of God in a baby and had bowed low before him, humbling themselves.

Their greatest gift, said St. Augustine, was not the gold, frankincense and myrrh, but rather that they went home by a different path. This new path, said Pope Benedict, was "the road of love which alone can transform the world."

The pope asked why do some see the star and not follow it? Why will they only follow their own stars? His response: "Too much self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything closes them and makes their hearts insensitive to the newness of God. . . .

"They place their confidence in themselves rather than in him, and they do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us."

We have pretensions to grandiosity to overcome. The Magi brought precious gifts, ones appropriate for a king. However, when we bring gifts, do they give glory to the King or do they draw attention to ourselves? It is one thing to bring spectacular, showy gifts. It is another to be humble enough to then walk a different road.

Where will that new road lead? All we know for sure is that it offers a journey of love and hope. Hope gives us eyes for the eternal; it also sees the eternal hidden even within despair and suffering.

The philosopher Plato said this world is a world of two-dimensional shadows that poorly reflects "the real world." A better description comes from Hans Urs von Balthasar: "Everyday realities are really the manifestation of incomparable mysteries."

Only the eyes of humility can see such mysteries hidden amidst meagre circumstance. The Magi, however, gained that new vision when they found the new king amidst the lowly. Once they had adored him and left their gifts, what could they do? They had to find a new route home. They had to travel a different path.