At my previous church in Toronto, there was a small glass tile cross, back lit by the sun behind the altar. There wasn’t anything fancy about the cross, as the church had more of a quaint cottage like feel. It wasn’t ornate stained glass but it let in the light. As the faithful made their way up the red aisle to kneel with hands outstretched for bread and wine, their eyes would sparkle. In their eyes was a tiny version of the cross behind me. I came to love how the 12 x 7 foot glass cross window would often reflect a smaller cross in their tiny eyes. It didn’t happen all of the time, but it happened often enough for me to expect the regular reminder of God’s light being a part of these lovely people.
As the magi set out to follow the light that glimmered in the sky, I imagine their eyes reflecting the star above that shone brightly in the sky and also in their eyes. And while they could not see the reflection of light in their own eyes, they could certainly see it in the eyes of their travel-companions.
The light was a constant and steady presence. A comfort to them as they ventured a little bit closer to Bethlehem. One could say they were well prepared for this unknown path ahead. The magi were learned men who studied sacred texts and history but as the women say about childbirth, you can only prepare so much - the child prepares you - and reality presents itself. Even so, preparation gives confidence, and the magi were not in short supply.
Embarking on a journey of this magnitude couldn’t help but leave them a little more unsettled than usual. They knew it could take weeks or even months. The route was dangerous and camels weren’t the easiest to ride but the magi didn’t question - even for a brief moment - their decision to follow and seek out the bright light in the sky. Was it Jupiter and Saturn aligning again? They decided early on to follow that light and didn’t waver in the slightest. How could astrologers pass by this opportunity. This was their moment in time - to shine like the Star of Bethlehem.
And shine they did. Others had tried to convince them otherwise. They said, this wasn’t the correct path to follow. Fools they are for following that far off star. Some people tried to convince them to keep their minds closed to what this star might reveal. They said - why seek out something new when we’ve got this right here. But the magi knew otherwise in their heart and their imaginations gave them dreams of a king who would be a shepherd to all. They prepared the camels and gathered the most expensive gifts, worthy to give to a king.
As they travelled, they entered more deeply into a space between the certainty of what was known in Persia and ambiguity of the path they currently trekked upon to Bethlehem. The magi knew these liminal moments were invaluable. When one foot is planted firmly in the known and the other foot in ready to step into the future. 1 They were on the threshold of something new. But they weren’t there yet. There would be set backs and difficulties. Much would be worked out on the way.
What would the star reveal to them, they mused? Surely, a season of re-orientation would come in due time. At that moment though, they felt disoriented. But in the disorientation of life as it was, they learned to rely more completely upon that bright guiding light in the sky. When they saw it, they were re-oriented once again toward the goal. They learned to look and wait for the light when unease set in. Continuous and constant, was the faithful light revealed the way forward toward the Word that awaited them.
Richard Rohr describes God’s use of liminal experience,
All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of business as usual and remain patiently on the threshold where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us. This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart and a bigger world is revealed. 2
It’s fair for us to say that these liminal moments when we are betwixt between the familiar and unknown happen regularly. And even as they seemed difficult, we learn much in these moments. When we accept a new job, when a child is born, at each new stage of life, when mobility lessens, or when eyesight and hearing fade. In churches when new pastors start after the lengthy leadership of another. When you catch a glimpse of a new vision forward especially in the midst of a pandemic. These are liminal moments when we are between what was and what will be.
The journey for the magi continued in this liminal space. When they arrived in Jerusalem and went before Herod, things seemed worse before they got better. They knew in an instant Herod the ‘anything but’ Great was a monster. He would harm anyone thought to be a threat. With an appetite for power so great and insecurity so vacuumous even a tiny infant threatened his existence. When the magi asked him, Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? Rage overcame Herod.
The magi made a quick exit and continued to follow the star. At times they wondered if it was a wild goose chase - leading nowhere. They searched this impossible star light out - like the end of a rainbow and found the light there above the child. In an instant, being nowhere - started turning into being somewhere. When they finally arrived in Bethlehem they went to the house where Jesus the young child was staying. We are told, they found him with his mother. The impossibility of it all - led to the possibility of God-with-Us right in front of their eyes.
They took out the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, knelt before the child and paid homage. The star had led them to this. They knew in their heart of hearts the star would reveal something to tell the generations to come. They lingered for a little. Breathing in all that was before them. Now it was time to leave. Not wanting to leave, they said their goodbyes and gave thanks for the gift in front of them. A gift that put light back into their eyes and called them forth into profound hopefulness and deep gratitude.
By another road…
The magi went on their way.
That’s all we hear.
They met the Christ child and left by another road.
The story of the Magi offers a tantalizing hint about life for those who have met Christ. Nothing is ever the same. You don’t take the old road any longer. You unfold a new map, and discover an alternate path. 3
We’ve had to unfold a new map often these past nine months. Pivoting in an instant. The light that leads to God-with-Us remains a constant and steady presence, and thankfully this isn’t about to change. The light of God’s star will continue to shine brightly guiding our lives to where the child can be found. (To the place where the Word is born among us. Where the Word is born for us and into our communities.)
Just like the mini cross reflected in the eyes of the faithful and like the star reflected in the eyes of the magi, our eyes reflect God’s guiding light to each other. Reminding us of God’s constant presence calling us, beckoning us to follow and kneel before the king offering our very selves.
Even as the journey takes us into these liminal spaces of life, we experience blessing upon blessing. As we follow the star that leads us to the Word, we are encouraged to bravely unfold a new map, and to discover an alternate path - which sometimes means travelling by another road like to the place where the child can be found. To the place where the Word is born among us. Where the Word is born for us and into our communities.
And together in faith, good things happen.
Thanks be to God!
1. Beaumont, Susan. Leading in a Liminal Season. Roman & Littlefield. 2019
2. Beaumont, Susan. Leading in a Liminal Season. Roman & Littlefield. 2019
3. Howell, James. Feasting on the Word. WJK. 2008