We know that these men from the east were likely royal astrologers in the court of the Persian or Babylonian King. They were obsessed with the movements of the stars and planets. They found great meaning in tracking their orbits and phenomena such as supernovas, eclipses and planetary conjunctions. They spent their lives with an eye in the telescope, and loved every minute of it.
They spent their lives as keen observers of the heavenly bodies.
Now imagine that they remained merely curious observers when the Star of Bethlehem made its grand appearance in the night sky. Imagine they came together and merely studied and marveled at and talked about this strange star rising in the sky? Stars have all the qualities of the things in life that grab our attention and delight our eyes: They are bright, shiny, majestic, sparkling, alluring. They invite us to ponder the transcendent quality of the created realm, they “declare the glory of God” and “proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19).
In a phrase: They command our attention. And this is exactly the danger or temptation that faced the magi 2,000 years ago. They could have quite easily remained merely observers of that brilliant star. What a tragedy is when we are content to merely stare at an object that is intended to draw our attention to something far greater!
For the first time in their star-gazing careers these magi decided to take action and follow the star. They went from being observers to followers. (This is a decision all people of faith must make as well.)
Our consumeristic American culture is obsessed with our own bright and shiny objects that demand our attention. The streets and sidewalks, shopping malls and city squares are all lit up with bright shiny lights and sparkling decor that invite us to drink in the beauty of the season. The stores are lined with this and that that lure us in and promise us joy and satisfaction. From holiday music on the radio, to Christmas specials on TV, to the non-stop advertisements, and blockbuster movies in the theater — they all direct the eyes of hungry men and women to the irresistible sparkle and shine of the season.
Many of us are in danger of simply taking in these sights and sounds, and like the magi 2,000 years ago we must decide if we’re going to seek and discover for ourselves the greater reality to which all these shiny things ultimately point. Will we settle for the sparkle and shine that surrounds this season, or will we choose to look beyond them and follow their glow to the real thing? Will we just hold a beautifully wrapped gift in our hands, admiring the paper and ribbons, but never rip it open to enjoy what’s inside?
Yes, the magi chose to follow the shiny star to the manger where they discovered their Savior and worshipped the newborn king.
But they could easily have remained merely enamored observers of shiny things. Let’s not make that mistake either.