Everyone knows the story. The magi were guided by a star until they found the baby Jesus in the stable. Well not according to scripture which states the magi arrived after the birth at a house where the holy family were residing. And that is why we celebrate Epiphany after Christmas! And, importantly, it was not the star alone which guided the magi; whom scholars assume were Zoroastrian priests from Iran.
The star certainly guided at the outset of their journey. They began gazing to the heavens for portents, exhibiting a primitive and superstitious form of faith. Because they hungered for truth, seeking God with sincere hearts, he led them via that star, to Bethlehem. But not directly to Jesus…
The star gazing only got them so far then. It connected them to the realm of the supernatural but could not ultimately fulfil them. It took them to the brink of discovery but no further. And so, to move forwards, they had to abandon this primitive guidance system and adopt a new form of guidance. That of human expertise, so they travelled to Herod’s palace and consulted the wisdom of elites. They turned to academia which confirmed suspicions- ancient prophecy did speak of a Messiah born in Bethelehem…and the star shone for them once more.
This time it led them to Jesus. And on encountering him an amazing thing occurs. These important men, important enough to be granted audience with Herod, fell to their knees in homage before a peasant babe. Only a sincere Epiphany can have led to such humility! They saw with eyes of faith. Their hearts were changed. Their lives transformed to the point of offering lavish gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh.
As they knelt before Christ they found what they were looking for- a grace from above! And it enlightened and transformed not only them but their guidance system in life. So abandoning superstition and worldly expertise they ‘returned home another way’ …thereby avoiding the plot of Herod. The magi were now authentic believers- living in relationship with God and guided by Him.
Today the church contains all three modes of spiritual guidance. But only one is authentically Christian and will bring you salvation and grace.
First are those stunted by superstition and ignorance; who claim the name Christian but whose faith is not formed. They might trot to church for the lucky bread or out of habit and a sense of tribal identity. They might seek intercession of saints for sentimental reason. But they are very much of this world, living daily lives no different from unbelievers. Ignorance stops them from living a life of grace. Faith seeks understanding – you cannot love what you do not know. And because they do not know their faith, or have not experienced Jesus Christ in a manner of authentic conversion, they remain lost. Like sheep without a shepherd.
Next are the modern day occupants of Herod’s court. The elites who claim to love the church…but only on their terms. Many clergy are in this rank. The compromised who are wedded to ‘the institution’ not Christ. Like the superstitious but more dangerous because they are better informed. Often these sort once had faith but lost it because hunger for power, or a hidden sinful life, corrupted. So they give themselves over to justifying the sham they have become; watering down the Gospel and appeasing the world and the devil.
They are the modernists dominating the hierarchy in recent time whose faith is blatantly political not supernatural. Silent on the horrors of divorce but vehemently outspoken on trendy issues like the environment. Ever desiring secular approval they endorse the faith, and benefit from it, but only to the point it conflicts with the world…then they back the world every time. Like Herod they are wicked for they do not serve Jesus Christ but desire to tame and control him and make him dance to the tune of our fallen culture. They are, very much, the Herod and Judas of today. And I fear they are legion in the upper echelons of modern ecclesial power. Consider the abuse crisis and tales of deep corruption in the Vatican.
Finally are the saintly few who have genuinely encountered Jesus Christ and live by grace. They are not closed to the mystical realm nor dismissive of the insights of worldly thinking but their first love is always Jesus Christ and to him they belong! So they follow this world but only to the point it contradicts the wisdom of the divinely revealed faith.. and at that point, in contrast to the modern Herods, they opt for Christ and speak out for him and do not count the cost.
You will therefore often find them hated by the world and elites who also hated Christ from the moment Herod drove him into exile in Egypt. Expect them to be run down in the press and never presented, as modernist clerics are, as merciful and kind. But they do tend to speak for the church in all ages not watering down faith but upholding it. Yes, despite often speaking from the margins, I believe they must be the wise men and women of our day. Oh that we would join them!
I write as one prone to stand up for the last group but far too foolish to actually join them in terms of sanctified living. For that I must overcome a daily battle against self and overthrow the wiles of the devil. Must work harder.