Kings and stars guide all of us on our journeys with God. Kings represent human factors; stars, the divine. We must learn to recognize the difference between them and give each factor its due weight. The magi who went to worship the Christ child are an example of how it works.
Imagine them arriving in Jerusalem after their long journey. So far they had navigated by a star that told them of a royal birth. They began to do the natural things. Kings live in capital cities, so they began inquiring. They probably asked people who would know best: elders, leaders, military officers, priests, government officials. Knowing the culture of Judea they understood that this king was the Messiah.
King Herod heard about the eccentric visitors. He bristled at talk of messiahs. Messiahs rallied rebels, they threatened national stability, and they threatened him. A quick casual inquiry informed him that a Jewish prophet pointed to Bethlehem as the birthplace. Sly Herod invited the magi for an audience to get an idea of the baby’s age and to use the magi to locate the brat. When the magi heard Herod’s invitation it made sense to accept.
Having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. (Matthew 2:9)
The magi had reverted to their former astral-accurate method of navigation. It raises a question: why did the magi take a break from nav-star in Jerusalem? Perhaps there are two possibilities:
- Stars are not visible during the day or when skies are overcast. Could it be that the magi were so keen to find the Messiah that they could not wait for night or better weather? They knew they were close, so they used their initiative and asked around.
- Bethlehem is six miles from Jerusalem. A star over Bethlehem is readily mistaken as a sign over Jerusalem. It’s easy to discount a tiny discrepancy in the guidance. What’s more, the current king in the royal palace in Jerusalem was the most likely person to have sired a royal child. Surely the magi had arrived. We can imagine their diplomatic question, “Your majesty, um . . . have you by chance recently had a son?”
Don’t we take the same breaks from following God’s guidance? Impatience, initiative or assumptions take us back to human path-finding. It’s not necessarily a problem. The magi made it to Bethlehem and God upset Herod’s scheme. God led them by both methods. The lesson for us is to learn the difference between kings and stars and make sure we stay focused on, and can recognize, the outcome God is leading us to.