Ave Maria Meditations
|But now a change comes over the scene, which seems at first sight but little in keeping with the characteristic lowliness of Bethlehem. A cavalcade from the Far East comes up this way. The camel bells are tinkling. A retinue of attendants accompanies Three Kings of different Oriental tribes, who come with their various offerings to the new-born Babe. It is a history more romantic than romance itself would dare to be. Those swarthy men are among the wisest of the studious East. They represent the lore and science of their day. Yet have they done what the world would surely esteem the most foolish of actions. They were men whose science led them to God, men, we may be sure, of meditative habits, of ascetic lives, and of habitual prayer.
The fragments of early tradition and the obscure records of ancient prophecies, belonging to their nations, have been to them as precious deposits which spoke of God and were filled with hidden truth. The corruption of the world which they, as Kings, might see from their elevation far and wide, pressed heavily upon their loving hearts. They too pined for a Redeemer, for some heavenly Visitant, for a new beginning of the world, for the coming of a Son of God, for one who should save them from their sins.
Their tribes doubtless lived in close alliance; and they themselves were bound together by the ties of a friendship which the same pure yearnings after greater goodness and higher things cemented. Never yet had Kings more royal souls. In the dark blue of the lustrous sky there rose a new or hitherto unnoticed star. Its apparition could not escape the notice of these Oriental sages, who nightly watched the skies; for their science was also their theology. It was the star of which an ancient prophecy had spoken. Perhaps it drooped low toward earth, and wheeled a too swift course to be like one of the other stars. Perhaps it trailed a line of light after it, slowly, yet with visible movement, and so little above the horizon, or with such obvious downward slanting course, that it seemed as if it beckoned to them, as if an angel were bearing a lamp to light the feet of pilgrims, and timed his going to their slowness, and had not shot too far ahead during the bright day, but was found and welcomed each night as a faithful indicator pointing to the Cave of Bethlehem. How often God prefers to teach by night rather than by day!
Meanwhile, doubtless, the instincts of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of these wise rulers drew them toward the star. They followed it as men follow a vocation, hardly seeing clearly at first that they are following a divine lead. Wild and romantic as the conduct of these wise enthusiasts seemed, they did not hesitate. After due counsel, they pronounced the luminous finger to be the star of the old prophecy, and therefore God was come. They left their homes, their state, and their affairs, and journeyed westward, they knew not whither, led nightly by the star that slipped onward in its silent groove. They were the representatives of the heathen world moving forward to the feet of the universal Savior. They came to the gates of Jerusalem; and there God did honor to his Church. He withdrew the guidance of the star, because now the better guidance of the synagogue was at their command. The oracles of the law pronounced that Bethlehem was to be the birthplace of Messias; and the wise men passed onward to the humble village. Again the star shone out in the blue heavens, and slowly sank earthward over the Cave of Bethlehem; and presently the devout Kings were at the feet of Jesus.
Fr. Faber (Bethlehem)