Give a few moments to letting the inner self find some quiet
As always it helps to close your eyes and to give a few moments to letting the inner self find some quiet. You are here to receive some new light on your life. Ask to be able to get in touch with your deeper desires. Lord Jesus, you said that you are the light of the world and our way, truth and life. Grant me to discover how to journey with you in this Advent time towards newness of light, towards you.
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.
In prayer, ask to realise that all your desire to encounter Christ is embraced and transformed by His desire to come towards you
- We come now to the climax of the journey of the Magi, to the moment when they find Jesus and worship him. They have travelled the short distance of a few miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. For them Jerusalem had been a place of disturbance and even of desolation and inner darkness. But the light of the star returned to guide them to the small town of Bethlehem, stopping over the house where they discover Mary and Jesus. Notice again that this stage of the journey was marked by “great joy”. If Herod’s Jerusalem was a city of power and intrigue, Bethlehem proves to be a place of simplicity and of prayer. These two places represent spiritual spaces, not just geographical locations.
- There are times when we know we are on the right road, and when we recognize the clash between harmony and falsity. Thus with deep consolation the Magi arrive at the moment of adoration that is the climax of their journey. The gospel tells us that they “entered into the house”. To enter into that space is the invitation in this session of our advent retreat. The Magi represent the genuine wisdom of spiritual traditions outside Judaism. At long last their wisdom has led them to discover the new-born King - the goal of their whole journey. But did these searchers from the East understand the unique presence of God in this child? Matthew does not tell us what went on in their minds in their moment of adoration, but the words he uses seem to imply a certain leap of faith by these pagan seekers. We are told that they “fell down and worshipped him” or in other translations they “knelt and adored him”.
- Something extraordinary is happening here. If we imagine the Magi as realizing that this child is in some way divine, then everything changes for them. Their journey from the East is now met by another journey of God into this world. The searchers now find themselves sought for by this Child. Here is a moment for pausing in prayer, asking to realise that all your desire to encounter Christ is embraced and transformed by His desire to come towards you.
Adoration is the highest form of prayer, where someone is overwhelmed by a sense of the glory and presence of God
- Perhaps the Magi also had to cross this surprising threshold into adoration. What is adoration? It is the highest form of prayer, where someone is overwhelmed by a sense of the glory and presence of God. In the Bible it is associated with intense awareness of both the holiness and the closeness of God, and frequently the response is not just spiritual: the person falls prostrate on the ground as in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekial 1:28) or at the very end of Matthew’s gospel where disciples “fell down before” the Risen Lord. The Magi offer the same gesture of silent veneration. A Hopkins translation of the famous hymn “Adoro te devote” captures the core of adoration beautifully: Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore… all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
- This ancient hymn was written for Eucharistic adoration but also in the case of the Magi the divine presence was hidden in a helpless child. They were graced, it seems, with being able to recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary and to enter a wordless space of contemplation. We are therefore moved at this time towards a prayer of quiet. It is worth remembering that bodily position can be important as an expression of reverence. It may also help to repeat some phrase as one imagines oneself there in the gospel scene: “Lord Jesus”, or “Hallowed be thy name” or (addressed to Mary) “The Lord is with thee”. But do not forget to let the words quieten into a silence where the heart, “lost in wonder”, enjoys the presence of Jesus.
- In the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius he insists that God seeks to communicate directly with the retreatant “inflaming the soul with his love” and that the director should not get in the way of this “immediate” presence of God. This is the space of adoration and indeed of transformation, and it is open to everyone in their own way. It invites us into a quiet reverence beyond “too many words” as Jesus himself said (Matthew 6:8). The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said “Contemplation starts when the mystery begins to reveal itself in all its vastness… something impossible has happened: God manifests himself in a human life”. As you reflect at this time have the courage to simplify the gaze of your heart before this epiphany, this glory that is both veiled and unveiled.