James Tissot, The Journey of the Magi, Minneapolis Institute of the Arts
It is hard to imagine the logistical nightmare behind the visit of the Magi in Matthew 2.
Picture the scene: the resident experts on the stars and the ruler’s futurists see something that they are excited about. They feel this is something important that needed a response.
Step 1: Sell the project to the Boss: come up with the proposal and justification.
“We have to go out west and we aren’t sure how long it will take, maybe a few months, maybe a year or so. The star will keep us on the right path. We have to find a baby. And it would be good to give some really great gifts. Are we sure about this? Well, we are pretty sure, kind of sure. It sounded like a good idea at the time.”
Step 2: The Boss bought the idea! Now they needed a plan:
How many in the caravan? How much will it cost? How many provisions do we need? Oh, we need gifts. They have to be special gifts. Too bad the child can’t give us some sort of a list of what they want and need. Without a list, we will have to guess.
Then after all that planning and organizing, they had to make the trip. They spent months on the road toward a vague destination. They knew they were going west to the land of Israel, but that was all they knew.
Imagine how they felt when they knocked on Herod’s door and the king had no clue what they were talking about. The uncertainty probably rose quickly within their hearts. “Did we get it right? Have we messed up?”
Like I said, a nightmare.
So, Why did they go through all that work?
Wouldn’t it be easier just to stay at home and record the sighting in their journals and explore the theories about what it meant. That is a lot of work to consider toward an uncertain outcome. Better to play it safe.
Isn’t that the challenge for all of us?
We find life easier when we keep things the same. We can call it maintaining the status quo, or we can get fancy and call it homeostasis. We accept variety and try something new and different for a little while, as long as it remains fun and easy. But when things get more difficult and we become unsure about ourselves we easily give up and go back to the same old way of acting. There is something about life that makes it difficult to move in a new direction for any long-term time frame.
So why did they do all that work?
They might have been curious. After all, exploring new information and gathering data was what they did. They received some thrill when they found something new and played with new possibilities. But how far do we go in dabbling with new things when the return on the investment is small or the fun is lost?
Curiosity may get us started on a journey, but to sustain it over the long run we need to keep on finding the payback. I’m not sure curiosity alone would have been enough.
Another possible motivation is obedience. That motivates many of us to do difficult things. Someone tells us what to do, and they make clear what the consequences of not following orders might be: usually something that is based on fear and punishment.
That wouldn’t be the case with the Magi. First of all, who ordered them to go? I can’t imagine a ruler of any nation ordering an expensive venture like this trip without a clear goal in mind. And what would they be afraid of? If they were afraid of failure, then just stay home and don’t even attempt the trip.
For obedience to work in the long-term, the pressure of failure and punishment needs to keep increasing to keep pushing us forward.
As we proceed on the life long adventure of a fully dimensional life, we have to find a better source of motivation beyond simple curiosity or fear of punishment.
So why do we do it?
Magi Lesson #3: Put our Hearts into it.
To maintain any kind of long-term endeavor in our life we need to connect with something greater and grander. We need to know that our actions reflect our participation and response to something meaningful.
We find that sense of meaning within our heart.
It is our heart that holds our values, hopes, and dreams: the things which are important to us. We define our sense of success and failure not with our heads but with our emotions. We connect with loved ones in relationships through a heart connection. And the artists that we enjoy usually find some way to connect with our feelings through beauty and pain, surprise and sorrow.
In deciding to follow the star, the Magi had to recognize that what they saw marked something significant and that they wanted to connect with that great event with their response and their gifts.
As we respond to the gift of the light of the universe in that small stable, we need to connect our heart with God’s great heart of grace and beauty.
May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. That way you can glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one voice. (Romans 15:5-6 CEB)
A wonderful image for the life of a follower of the light is that of a symphony and chorus: voices blending and harmonizing with others in a chorus of worship and compassion in response to God’s glory and grace. We can try to live our lives alone as a great solo performer, but we have to realize that it is a rare soloist who doesn’t have back up singers and a band.
Through it all, the heart of God beats and our hearts beat best when we connect with the rhythm and melody of God.
We find our heart in harmony with God when we look inside.
We need to be people who care deeply about the people whom God cares for. Just as we look up expecting God to guide us, we look inside our hearts trusting the heart of God is already there beating within us.
- Who are the people that you really care about? For whom are you willing to go the distance?
- What leads you to honor people, to celebrate their lives?
- Why do you feel deeply with those who act in that way and who connect with you in that way?
- How can you connect your passions–what you care about–with the passion and beauty of God?
God’s great heart invites you to love fully with your great heart.