Imagine the travails of the Magi. The Gospel account of Matthew 2:1-12 tells us that they came “from the East” to worship the newborn king of the Jews. Traditionally it is held that they came either from Babylon or Persia. Such a great distance entailed enormous sacrifice and sufferings for these strangers. They had to travel for miles across dunes and deserts rain or shine towards an unfamiliar destination. Their only hope was the guidance of a bright star that spurred them to push on. The Star of Bethlehem was the only vision that gave them courage despite the futility of the search.
T.S. Eliot, poet and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote a poem “The Journey of the Magi” after his conversion to Christianity in 1927. This poem, in a dramatic monologue style, narrates the journey from the point of view of one of the magi. The narrator, now an old man, laments that their trip long time ago was tedious and tormenting. There was always that voice whispering in their ears to give up because “this was all folly.” Yet despite their weariness and pain, they found the place. Finding Jesus then had changed everything. He is now alienated from this material world and is seeking a better world to come.
We can draw lessons from the experience of the Magi.
Metaphorically, our life is a journey. It has its ups and downs; its winning and losing. We have shares of tragedies and triumphs, light shadows. Yet we move on. We continue. We are not discouraged because we know that God accompanies us and journeys with us. The success in this journey is not how much power or prosperity we have accumulated along the way. It is not even in our own personal prestige nor in the position one has achieved in society. Rather it is the joy and happiness of finding God and finding meaning in our life.
One of the inspiring books I read back in my seminary days was “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It was written by Victor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who was a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. This work chronicles his experience as a prisoner in the Auschwitz death camp. He describes that there are three reactions every inmate feels in the camp. At first they are shock during the initial admission. Then comes apathy after becoming accustomed to camp existence. Finally depersonalization—moral deformity, bitterness and disillusionment. A prisoner who reaches the last stage of depersonalization never survives the death camp. But Frankl concludes in his book that life never ceases to have meaning despite extreme misfortunes or even death. Each man has still the freedom of choice to give meaning to his life. It is such faith that makes him a survivor.
One positive quality of the Magi was their perseverance. They searched diligently for the child Jesus. They made a choice not to give up. They continued to look up to the star for guidance. This gave the Magi the mental toughness to proceed. I believe in life we need the right mental attitude. Such attitude will make us or break us in seemingly hopeless situations. I once read a story about two prisoners in a tower. One looked up and saw stars, the other looked down and saw mud.
Perseverance is determined by the choices we make. We always have a choice. Despair is much a choice as hope. We can choose optimism over pessimism. We can choose trust over cynicism. We can always choose to look beyond over what Shakespeare describes as the “sling and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Like the Magi, when all we see in our journey is the endless path long and winding, let us pray for the courage to persevere. We need to go where God awaits us. So we must move on following our own star of Bethlehem.
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