Most people probably know the phrase “A leap of faith”. I would guess that not so many have heard “A journey of faith”, although I think it would be known to most Christians. Weather other religions also use the phrase, I do not know. In Christian terms it is usually used metaphorically but for three men every Christian will have heard of, it was both and a figurative and literal journey of faith. I refer of course to the three Magi, who visited the baby Jesus soon after his birth.
The children’s Nativity play, performed in so many schools near christmas, along with a goodly number of films and television programs, not to mention my own tongue in cheek story of the nativity, depict or refer to the magi as kings, who visit the child in the stable in which he was born; Matthew shows us (Matthew 2: 1-12) that this is incorrect in two aspects. He says that “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary”. It seems then that soon after the birth, Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus found proper accommodation, instead of the stable, presumably after the census when some of the people in Bethlehem would have left to return to the current homes. Matthew never mentions Kings in his account, they are wise men or Magi.
These men from the East travelled a great distance to see the boy king, Jesus, following the newly discovered star which to the people of that age would almost certainly be considered a portent or maybe prophesy.
It seems likely that they came from Persia, although Babylonia or Arabia are possible too. These wise men were probably both astrologers and early astronomers, studying the stars (astronomy) and interpreting their meaning (astrology). It is likely to be the astrology aspect of their studies that lead to them being considered to be wise.
To the magi, a new star would be a momentous event, that needed to be investigated. Nevertheless, it was a leap of faith even to set out to follow the star, not knowing how far they would have to travel or where it might lead them.
The journey to their ultimate destination must have taken many weeks, more likely months and was probably slow through inhospitable terrain. To follow a star, much of their travel would probably have been at night time, which for soldiers would not be unusual but for civilians it would not be usual. Travelling at night in that time was usually only done as a matter of necessity.
The magi were apparently wealthy men, evidenced by the nature of the gifts they brought with them. The gifts were not only expensive but in their own way, a prophesy of Jesus’ future. Gold represented Kingship, frankincense would be for priesthood (Rabbi/teacher) and the myrrh his death, which in the society of the age was used to embalm a body.
The journey the magi mad could be made in a matter of hours today, it would have taken them months of dangerous travel, with an uncertain ending; a journey of faith indeed.