Saying the magi “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” isn’t random poor grammar or superfluous text
“They were overjoyed at seeing the star.” Imagine the scene: the wise men (having entered Jerusalem and consulted Herod) left the city not having found that which they were seeking. They had come so far in their journey, arrived at the great city of Israel’s kings; yet the star had disappeared from their sight, and the king of that place, Herod, offered not enthusiasm for their quest, but concern.
T.S. Eliot captures the weight of the difficulties and trials of the magi’s travels in his much-loved poem, “Journey of the Magi.” Describing the hostility of villages, unreliability of stewards, the cold and damp of winter nights, the magi-poet says simply, “A hard time we had of it.” Imagine the doubt that must have plagued the magi at their arrival in Jerusalem. Was the entire trip in vain? Had every hindrance and sorrow been for naught? Had they truly come so far to have found nothing?
And then, upon leaving the city, “They were overjoyed at seeing the star.” Other translations of scripture render this phrase, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” The ancient text of Matthew includes the redundancy for emphasis. Saying the magi, “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” isn’t random poor grammar or superfluous text. The evangelist is trying to tell us just how much it meant to the magi to see the star again. Upon leaving Jerusalem unsuccessful and dejected, the magi looked up into the sky and saw once more the star. “And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with an exceedingly great joy.”
Every Christian at some point in life experiences what the magi undergo. After setting out to follow where God leads, we can lose sight of our direction. As the magi get caught in Jerusalem, it can appear to us that our labors for God have been in vain; that our efforts to do the right thing or live justly have been for nothing. Such is the nature of the workings out of Divine Providence. We entrust our hearts to His guidance and plan, but the particular realities are only made known to us gradually.
The promise of Christian life is the continual re-discovery of the star. God, as he makes known the plans he has for us enlightens our minds and fills our hearts with his hope (Jer. 29:11). Not all at once, but in due time. To know the view of things at once would overwhelm us. We would be so overcome by the good things and trials alike in store for us that it is far better not to know them. God reveals what our hearts and minds can bear accordingly.
We must be ready to set out. St. John Chrysostom exhorts us,
Let us depart from the things of earth. For the wise men only saw the star while they were in Persia […] And they would not have even seen the star if they had not been so ready to get up and go.
What is preventing us from setting out, embarking on the path to seek Christ again? Where is God calling you to find Him in 2020?
The prophet Isaiah assures us that we have nothing to fear. He encourages us, “Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow!” (Isa. 60:5). Again, John Chrysostom urges us on,
Let us also rise up. Though everyone else is troubled, let us run to the house of the young Child. Though kings and nations and tyrants stand in the way, let our desire not fade. In that way we shall repel all the dangers that we face.
It is by clinging to our hope of what is to come that every darkness and shadow can be repelled. As St. Paul puts it, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). The moment when we can gaze upon the face of God, after the distress of life’s arduous travels, will be filled with unimagined joy.
The star, once a sign of hope and promise, fades at the coming of Christ. The star of old gives way now to every dynamic movement of grace which leads those who would seek Christ to his presence. Former things are passing away …
In the presence of Christ the weight of the journey passes away. Weary eyes can gaze upon new sights. Worn hearts can behold new joys. Fear and insecurity give way to the very purpose of Christian life: worship and adoration. Before the Word-made-flesh every searching soul falls to the ground giving praise to the infant savior of the world.