It is unnerving, even to the seasoned traveler. The flight seems smooth, and then, suddenly, things get very bumpy and worrisome as it moves through an area of turbulence. If the seatbelt is not holding us securely in place, injury can happen, as we heard happened recently during an international flight.
Herod receives the news of the birth of a newborn King. A rival! This is turbulence in the extreme. He keeps his seatbelt very tightly fastened because he does not want to be thrown from his seat of power. Therefore, he summons his advisors to find out where the child is, so that he, too, can go and "do him homage" (translation: kill the child and remove the threat, calm the turbulence).
The reaction of the Magi is very different. They observe what for them was a kind of celestial turbulence. A new star has appeared. Astrologers, they are accustomed to reading and interpreting the alignment of the stars. They sense with the new star a significant re-alignment happening, not of the heavenly bodies but of earthly history. This event must have responded to a desire stirring deep within their hearts, because they "unfastened their seat belts"; sensing not danger but hope, they got up from their places, left behind the familiar, and went to the child. The offering of precious gifts symbolic of self-surrender, they yielded their lives to the King in whom they found the true way to view reality. Light for the world comes not from a star but from Him in whom God's own true light is made manifest. Power over time and history resides not in the stars and planets, but uniquely in Him by whose birth the eternal God enters time to make it salvation history. This kind of turbulence, this sort of "shaking up", is good; it is salutary, in fact. The Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but to take another way home. The turbulence introduced in their lives by the encounter with the newborn King moved them to change direction, away from evil and toward a new life.
So, seatbelt on or off? Contrary to the normal in-flight experience, the Gospel's announcement of the "turbulence" introduced into history by the birth of the Word made flesh is accompanied by the call to "unfasten our seatbelts", so that we might be unseated from sinful patterns of thought and behaviour. The birth of Jesus is not a turbulence that threatens harm. It is a shaking up that leads to life.