Depending on where we stand, or through which prism we see it, the journey of the Magi to adore the infant Jesus can be seen in different light. Common to the different angles of the story, we can all conclude that these men are not mere tourists. The journey, in sharp contrast to tourism, is a pilgrimage that compliments external navigation from plains to highs, with a soul searching internal transforming encounters. They came through the rough and risky plains, valleys, and highs of worldly knowledge and jubilee, but returned on a different path with God leading them by the hand back home. The Magi were led by a Star to Bethlehem, but were set on a different path home through the vision of God through a revelation by an Angel in their dream. They came to adore Christ as pagan wise men, but left as models for Christian kings and princes. They encountered Jesus, and their path to life changed for the better. They were transformed from people led by a Star to people led by God's vision and inspiration. They abandoned the worldly constellations with its attendant shadows and aberrations for the sweet light of God's grace

How were they transformed? How did their search for the true wisdom impart on their life's sojourn? Mirroring their journey to our earthly search for the truth, I have put together six lessons I learnt from the pilgrimage of the Magi to Bethlehem.

Lesson 1: No matter how wise and knowledgeable we are, without the guiding light, we will continue to wait or wander aimlessly in search of nothing.

They were pagans, who were faithful to the little light afforded them. The grandeur of their majesty and the height of their knowledge was not enough. They had a void in their life, which can only be filled with true worship of "the King of the Jews". Their knowledge was not enough to guarantee them effective use of their talent, judicious use of their time, and generous use of their treasures. All these assets of theirs were nothing without the divine light. Rather than wander aimlessly, they waited for divine light, which will lead them on to the presence of Jesus. They never got ahead of themselves; they simply anticipated and waited for direction from God, and God did not make them wait in vain. He afforded them his presence in a guiding star, and they took the opportunity without hesitation.

We become tourists relying on our passion and human guide when we embark on a journey solely marked by movement in space and time. Our plans and ambitions are purely exterior having no recourse to God. Being a pilgrim, added to the exterior movement in space and time, is an interior movement, which propels us to search for ultimate meaning and end to our plans, enriching us with spiritual benefits.

How often I have relied only on my wit, instincts, and knowledge to plan my year and moved without seeking first the sweet light that shines from above! The Magi, have in practical ways taught me how to pray the Moses way - Lord, if your presence will not go with me, do not let me leave this place! It will be my mantra everyday of this New Year.

Lesson 2: Our wisdom without God's guiding light is folly that leads us to the house of Herod - the wrong places

The house of Herod is a house of confusion, death, and evil judgment. It is a breeding ground for hate, envy, fear, and trepidation. Though it sits on the plain of posh capital of Jerusalem, it is a route to perdition. The wise men lost the vision on the guiding light; hence they resolve to use their own intellect. They figured out the obvious that the only place the king of the Jews can be born is only at the palaces of the mighty. Rather than wait on the Lord again for His manifestation, they simply gave up and chose to fill in the gap with their wisdom. They abandoned the guiding light and walked into the house of a destiny killer.

Whenever we abandon the truth of the gospel in our sojourn in life, we always find ourselves at the wrong places. We tend to rely on our intellect, and those of people around us. Even though the wise men found out that their assumption was wrong, they were left with asking a clueless man for clues.

I have many times started well in my quest to find fulfilment in life, but got excited and carried away by little things I learn along the way. By so doing, I derail from the path that guarantees eternal bliss to a path that leads to perdition.

Father, praying in the words of the popular song - Amazing Grace. "It was Grace that brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home"

Lesson 3: Human knowledge without the eternal light of God is 2-dimensional

Human wisdom has length and breadth; a two-dimensional qualities that lacks depth. It is the divine light that illuminates human wisdom to reveal the depth of human wisdom. The wise men could study the cosmos, and discern the very star that signified the birth of a king. Under the guidance of the star - the divine light, their search for Christ had depth. Every step put forward in the direction of the King of kings was a step in the right direction, until they lost the sight of the star. The depth of their knowledge was lost with the star, and rather than ask the right question, they asked for the place of birth of the "king of the Jews". This puts them in the category of Pilate and his Soldiers during the passion of Christ. I notice that every time that title was mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible, death followed. At nativity, many male babies died. At his passion, Jesus was mocked and crucified.

Like every knowledge and science, which does not connect to God's revelation, the product is always an aberration - half-truth. The wise men were looking not for the King of kings - God incarnate, they were looking for "the king of the Jews". Mary was young and naïve, yet she knew her child was not just the "king of the Jews", but "Emmanuel" - God is with us. Joseph was not an educated man, yet he was able to connect his knowledge to God's will, and he was never in doubt of the person of Christ. The Shepherds were called "holy fools" for proclaiming the birth of a king in a manger. The bottom line is that they were able to connect their wisdom with God's Light and Jubilee.

The end result of interpreting situations without the guiding light of God always lead us to asking the wrong questions, and like Ursula K. Le Guin rightly stated it, "there are no right answers to wrong questions".

Lesson 4: Without the light of God, we are tools in the hand of enemies masking as friends

Unknowingly to the Wise men, while still groping in the dark of their ignorance, Herod was going to use them as tools in his destruction plot. They were going to lead him to Christ so that he can slaughter him. They must have been grateful to Herod, thinking he was helping them.

We often jump from pillar to post seeking directions, abandoning the divine light and the light of our baptism. We seek for answers from one church to another, one "man of God" to another. We abandon the way of the cross and the light that shines out from the altar. Few people desire to find God at Bethlehem - a lowly village without glamour, yet we have fewer people helping the few to find it. Rather than fall for Greek gift, we need to seek and find divine light for direction in life. The "Herods" of this world will always have us lay our backs low for them to ride on it in the pretense of helping us to find an exit from our self-inflicted exiles or the ones the enemy sent us.

Lord, let me always come back to you in renewal of my baptismal light every time sin and the lust of things of the world blinds my mind to the celestial guiding light. Do not let me grope in the darkness of my ignorance and rely on my enemy for direction. Amen.

Lesson 5: Our pilgrimage is akin to mere tourism if our gifts are not befitting for King, God, and Saviour.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh were the gifts that the wise men gave to Jesus. The Wise men could have brought anything but these items. In fact, they could have worshipped him empty handed. I realize that anything given to God must reflect not just my "widows mite" (that window has be badly exploited in our offertory today), but must be befitting for my King, God, and Saviour.

Our worship, adoration, and activities in our parishes are made complete by bearing befitting gifts for God. I have heard and seen people filling up piously going to offer God money not worthy of a beggar. With their hands tightly squeezed, they drop mutilated notes and peanuts in the offering box.

Henceforth, O lord, I will begin to see your altar as my Bethlehem, where you are born at every Mass. The sinking sand and the hot climate of the desert of my ignorance as I approach your altar will never overwhelm me. I will ask myself if my offering is worthy of my adoration to the King, I will be sure it is acceptable to God like the sacrifice of Abel. I will ensure that I appreciate the ransom paid over me by your death on the cross of Calvary. The aisle will become my way to Bethlehem, and your Grace shall be the kindly light that will lead me home. So help me God! Amen.

Lesson 6: "No one will have any other desire in heaven than what God wills; and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God." - St. Anselm of Canterbury

Finally, I do not see the Epiphany to the Gentiles as another folklore or a story to amuse me. I see a struggle between desire and weakness. It gives me a deeper understanding of St Anselm of Canterbury's teaching. I know better now, that the wisdom of this world without God's inspiring light, is folly; that in spite of our mistakes of being at the wrong places - Jerusalem, rather than Bethlehem, asking the wrong questions - infant king of the Jew rather than Christ, not seeing the intention of those who we think are in position to help us - the highly placed Herods of this world (those who will rather use us than to help us), our many ways of bringing our adoration and worship to ridicule by bearing poor gifts for our King, God, and Saviour; we, like the wise men will still find what we are looking for, provided we truly desire it. We - saints or sinners, simply need to stay connected to God, the provider of the divine light that will light our path and lead us to earthly and eternal bliss.


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