I have long been intrigued by the magi, those men from the east, where the daylight dawns, who had the insight, the vision, to spot in the darkness a previously unidentified star of exceptional luminosity. Having spotted it, they resolved to leave the security of what they knew and embark upon a journey into the unknown, drawn only by an intuition, a deep inner conviction, that the star was of extraordinary significance.

Their journey was long and arduous. There must have been times when their conviction was on the verge of being shattered, when wisdom appeared like utter folly. Perhaps it was important then that there was more than one of them (in fact an unspecified number), so that when one or another was overcome with weariness or a sense of the rational ridiculousness of what they were doing, there were others to carry those things with which they were heavily laden, and to reinforce the unaccountable sense of the rightness of their quest.

Apparently there were times when the star, which it would seem the magi believed to be the indication of a royal presence, was not so clearly visible. They were obliged to ask the location of the child born to be king of the Jews, of Herod, who was to meet what they revealed to him with violence.

And when finally they arrived where the star came to rest, they entered that humble place and found there a vulnerable child. In that helpless infant there were no obvious signs of royalty, power or the divine. Nonetheless the magi offered him gold, frankincense and myrh, gifts with which a king or deity was traditionally honoured. And having found the luminous object of their long search and clearly demonstrated their feilty to it, they left for their own country, in some way changed: “by another path”.

In another Eastern tradition, the Sufi Mullah Nasruddin, who is sometimes the wise man and sometimes the fool, loses his keys inside the familiar security of his house. He knows very well where the light is and so persists in looking for them outside.