Monday, January 8, 2024: It’s time to look up. There’s a star above us. It’s time to put our despair aside and start the journey again.
Luke tells a great story.
Wise men arrive in Jerusalem, unannounced. There will be a great deal of intrigue with Herod that won’t end until the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt as refugees and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem after the departure of the magi.
Why did the magi make this journey? There is a hint about this in Luke’s Gospel: Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” I get the point: the magi observed a start in the heavens and then set out. But I want to ask: what does it mean for us that they had the nerve to mount their camels and set off on the journey?
Seeing the star is one thing. Setting off on the journey is something else. I wonder if the magi were in despair when they looked up and saw the star that would lead them to Bethlehem.
The world, at times, sinks into despair. Certainly, this is what is happening around the world today. In the Middle East, terrible crimes have been committed and are still being committed. On the news I saw a child running in a panic in a hospital in Gaza. The child was wailing hysterically, calling out for her father, and no one in the hospital had the heart to tell this little girl that her father was dead.
In different parts of the world today, the economy is failing to provide for the common good. More and more wealth is being concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people. This goes a long way in explaining why there are so many migrants on the road and why demagogues have taken over our politics.
We are beginning a new year and I want you to open your hearts to a teaching of the Church. It’s this: God never abandons us to our despair. Today, the Maker of Heaven and of Earth is sending us a star and telling us to get on the road. Let me tell you about Saint Augustine. He lived in a time of despair too: the Roman Empire was falling down around him. Augustine died with the barbarians literally at his city’s gate. And this is what Saint Augustine taught his people:
Human beings were created so that there might be a beginning. For before this, there was no one who could do this.
This teaching goes to the heart of the Gospel. God realized that the world would sink into despair from time to time. And so, he created human beings in order that the journey of creation into the Mystery of God might begin once again. And get this: Augustine says that, before there were human beings, there was no one in the world who could do this for God.
Augustine said this sixteen centuries ago, but he is speaking to us today. There is a reason we were placed on this earth: We are called by God to rescue the world from its despair. God has set the world on a journey that is leading it back to its Creator. And when creation falls into despair, only human beings can begin the journey again.
This is why the magi were given their star: In the midst of the cold, dark winter of despair that had come over the world, the magi looked up, saw their star and then set out for Bethlehem. They were given their star so that the journey might have a new beginning.
And in the year of our Lord, 2024, I am here to say that we have been given a star for the same reason. Listen to the poetry of the Prophet Isaiah… See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Today, as well, darkness covers the earth. And yet, upon us the LORD shines. It’s time to look up. There’s a star above us. It’s time to put our despair aside and start the journey again. - Jim Fredericks