The Direction of Courage

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,  saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” - Matthew 2:1-2

I began writing this message on the Feast of the Epiphany.  Much has happened in our world in those few days, but I believe this message remains relevant.  

The journey of the Magi bears many similarities to our own spiritual journey.  It’s certainly a familiar story to us all: the wise men follow a mysterious star to visit the child Jesus -- the newborn King. If we take a closer look, this familiar tale takes on a new relevance.

One thing that has always struck me is that the Magi were pagans -- apparently a combination of astrologers and astronomers.  Jesus, from his first moments here on earth, began his mission -- to call all people to himself. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -- Galatians 3:28

The appearance of this star was so extraordinary to the Magi that they prepared to undertake a two year long journey to Bethlehem.  Travel in those times was extremely dangerous and arduous.  There was no guarantee they would return to their homes. Yet, they were willing to leave home, family, and all that was familiar and comfortable, to make this trek. The fact that they voluntarily placed themselves in extreme peril to pay homage to a God they did not yet know is extraordinary and worth pondering.  The Magi gave their all to Him before they even knew Him.  Do I always do the same?  I can say I know Him, but I am afraid I cannot say I always give Him my best.

It is significant that these pagan men freely responded to the inspiration of God.  It is one thing to recognize the inspiration, or prompting, of God.  It is another to muster the courage to respond to it; to follow where he leads, especially if it is an uncomfortable or unfamiliar place. I don’t know that I have always thought of the word “courage” when I have thought about these three mysterious wise men.  But it is obvious to me that the Magi can teach us quite a bit about courage.  

  • The courage to follow God without fully understanding where he is leading us.

  • The courage to step out of our comfort zone

  • The courage to overcome spiritual laziness

  • The courage to push ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of

  • The courage to respond wholeheartedly to God in all things

  • The courage to give our best to God

  • The courage to reach out to those who are different from us

  • The courage to love and respect people you don’t know or understand

  • The courage to trust God in all things

The other day, Mr. Tremblay relayed to me an encouraging message he and the assistant coach, Sue Shephard, were giving the high school girls’ basketball team last week. Coach Sue, who is a nurse, told the girls that the part of the brain where anxiety and fear originate is the same area where synapses associated with courage and competitiveness reside.  Basically, it is a one-way street. The brain does not allow both sets of responses, only one.  Where courage is found, anxiety and fear cannot exist.  In order to practice the courage of the Magi, we must push aside our fears and anxiety--they hold us back from living in the freedom that Christ has won for us.

We know the rest of the story of the wise men -- they found the child Jesus, “and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” Matt 2:10-12

Bishop Fulton Sheen once commented on the statement that the Magi took a different route home: “Of course they did; for no one comes to Christ and goes back the same way he came!” When we encounter Christ, we are fundamentally changed.  The Magi encountered Him after having made a great many sacrifices, suffering hardship, and overcoming numerous obstacles in their journey.  They certainly did not return to their homes the same men who had left two years prior.  May we have the courage to allow Christ to transform us, as he did the wise men!

From the very first moments he existed outside his Mother’s womb, Jesus began calling all people to himself. The angels reached out to shepherds, not the rich or powerful, but the poor and marginalized.  Pagan astrologers were inspired by God to go to extraordinary lengths in order to pay homage to a God they did not (at that time) worship. For two millennia, Jesus has been calling his people to himself.  

Let us take a page from the wise men’s book and pray for the courage to desire this encounter with God, to act upon His inspiration, to overcome the opposition we will face, and to give our best to Jesus.  If we can do these things, we can never “return by the same way.”  We will be transformed, and in turn, our world can be transformed, if we can cast off fear and anxiety, and act with the courage of the Magi.

- Mrs. Lisa Sweet, Academic Dean