Home by Another Road

            Depending on where you live in the world, it depends on what yesterday gets called. Here we call it Old Christmas Day – one last chance to celebrate the joy of the Christmas Season. For Orthodox and Eastern Christians, yesterday was Christmas Eve and today is Christmas Day. It was also the Feast of the Epiphany – the day the Magi from the east arrive bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I always love this day – maybe because it is like one last chance to delve into the Christmas Story but I think mostly because I admire those travelers from the east. They came not knowing what would happen or who they would meet along the way.

            Think about what they did. These wise ones who study the stars noticed something in the sky that made them curious. They’d never seen this particular star before. It wasn’t in any of their charts. Their curiosity led to follow a star to parts of the world perhaps they’d only imagined. As they travelled following that star, perhaps they talked among themselves about the meaning of the star. What is the universe saying to us? They landed on royalty.

So much so that they when they arrive in Jerusalem they start asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:2) In the palace King Herod hears about the visitors from the East looking for the one born to be king of the Jews and Herod and all Jerusalem are frightened.

King Herod was not someone to be trifled with. He was about power and he was politically savvy. He built an empire and somehow, he kept the peace with religious establishment and the engagement of those who were not Jewish. Herod was shrewd and cunning. In her commentary on this passage Jan Schnell Rippentrop writes, “This man, who had spent his whole life climbing to the political height he had achieved, is unlikely to favorably receive news that a baby is to be born with a right to Herod’s rule. Furthermore, Herod is used to getting rid of people who don’t serve his ambition. He:

had ten wives,

ordered multiple assassinations, including assassinations of some of his own sons, and,

changed succession plans multiple times as he decided who would take his throne when he died.

When Herod heard that a baby could get in the way of his plans, he defaulted to his regular pattern of figuring out how to execute the problem child.” (

So you can understand why all Jerusalem was frightened by the news that the Magi were bringing. For Herod this was a threat to his power and when Herod felt threatened so did everyone. What is important to note is the difference between Herod’s kingship which brings terror and God’s kingship which comes as a baby filled with love. When the chief priest and the scribes quote form the book of Micah telling Herod that the king is born in Bethlehem, he says to the Magi, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:8)

The Magi, undaunted by their search to find the ones whose star they say at its rising, go to Bethlehem. There they find Jesus with his mother. The kneel and pay him homage and offer gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The Magi, attuned to every sign, are warned in a dream not to return to Herod so, as it says in Matthew, “They left for their own country by another road.” (Matthew 2:12) And they were right to do so. What happens next is what happens when those in power feel threatened. He searched out all those who might supplant him as king and killed them. Joseph was also warned in dreamed not to return to his home. He took Mary and Jesus and they flee to Egypt.

            It scary and terrifying part of the Christmas story in Matthew. One we don’t often tell or read about. We talk about the arrival of the Magi, but we don’t often talk about the courage that it took for the to defy Herod and take that unknown road back to their home. Like most endings, it is also a beginning. The beginning of journey for the Magi as they travel home by that new road. Herod did not have the last word. The Magi, trusting their dreams, head home by different road and just maybe they got the courage to defy Herod because they met Jesus who changes everything.

As we contemplate how we live in light of the good news of Jesus’ birth, we too can take a page out of the Magi’s book, and travel home by a different road. It is the road that calls us to be bold in caring, to stand up against injustice and to be a voice for those who need it. It is an uncertain road, but it is the one that will take us home.

Jan Richard writes this poem called Blessing of the Magi


There is no reversing
this road.
The path that bore you here
goes in one direction only,
every step drawing you
down a way
by which you will not


You thought arrival
was everything,
that your entire journey
ended with kneeling
in the place
you had spent all
to find.


When you laid down
your gift,
release came with such ease,
your treasure tumbling
from your hands
in awe and


Now the knowledge
of your leaving
comes like a stone laid
over your heart,
the familiar path closed
and not even the solace
of a star
to guide your way.


You will set out in fear
you will set out in dream

but you will set out

by that other road
that lies in shadow
and in dark.

We cannot show you
the route that will
take you home;
that way is yours
and will be found
in the walking.

But we tell you
you will wonder
at how the light you thought
you had left behind
goes with you,
spilling from
your empty hands,
shimmering beneath
your homeward feet,
illuminating the road
with every step
you take.

            The Magi come from East, from the direction of the rising sun, bearing gifts for the one who is the light of the world. At the dawn of this new year, let us remember, that no matter the challenges we face, that Jesus who brings light and life to this world, is strength and courage and grace for all the roads we travel. May the light that shines from the stable illuminate every path your travel. Amen.