As we begin this new year, I am taken by today’s reading and how the magi who visit Jesus make an important decision based on a nighttime dream. In the dream, they are warned not to return to Herod, and so they decide to travel to their country by another route. What was it about the dream that persuaded the three wise men to change course? Could they really trust God speaking to them in a dream?
The Christmas season is about noticing how the Holy Spirit breaks into our lives in unexpected ways. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” writes the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, and this is an invitation to notice the many creative ways God speaks to us—through poetry, song lyrics, movies, art, nature, conversation, and even dreams. And today we can add e-reflections, podcasts, and videos. The Holy Spirit tries to make use of all of it.
Yet discernment goes hand in hand with noticing how the Spirit might be breaking in. It’s not always the Spirit. How can we tell the difference? I imagine that following their dream, the magi reflected on their earlier interaction with Herod and how it left them wary of Herod’s real intentions after telling him about Jesus’ birth. Perhaps it was something in Herod’s troubled tone of voice or the dull gaze in his eyes when he pretended to be delighted that a newborn king had arrived. The dream confirms their intuition that something isn’t right. The magi’s values of love, generosity, and hope in the birth of Jesus is not being reciprocated by Herod. Heeding the felt warning in the dream, they make a new decision to take another path home.
Often our minds, hearts, and souls desire God’s affirmation or God’s warning as we make new plans or seek a fresh perspective to help us get unstuck. A fresh perspective can offer a new direction to which we can say yes. Sometimes, however, God gives us a warning of where we need to set a limit or even say no to something.
Yet God’s whispering can get lost in our fast paced, noisy, busy world. The new year invites us to take time to pray, journal, go on a walk, meditate, read, sing, and make a little room to encounter Jesus anew. The more we stay connected to our deepest desires for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world, the more we can notice God breaking in with needed guidance, whether it is in the presence of a newborn child or in the symbols of a dream.
Ellie Hidalgo is co-director of Discerning Deacons, a project to engage Catholics in the active discernment of our Church about women in the diaconate and to contribute to the renewal of the diaconate for our times. Previously, she served as pastoral associate at Dolores Mission Church and School in Boyle Heights/East Los Angeles, CA. Ellie received her master’s in pastoral theology from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is based in Miami, FL.