The Christmas season is all about journeys. People are traveling in order to be home with family. Kids are heading to the grandparents' house. College campuses are abandoned ghost towns.
The Christmas story itself is full of journeys. Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem because of the census. The angels traveled from heaven to tell the shepherds about Jesus’ birth. The shepherds traveled to the manger. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus all traveled to Egypt to escape Herod’s death sentence.
But the most famous journey of all is that of the wise men.
We do not really know much about the wise men. Most of the details you think you know have been added by tradition. (For example, the Bible does not say there were three wise men. It does not identify them as kings. It does not give them names or identify their ethnicity.) They are mentioned only in the first 14 verses of the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.
But the little we know about the wise men makes their story more intriguing. Why would three non-Jewish foreigners be interested in the birth of a Jewish King? Why would they know about or care about a Jewish prophecy? Why would they travel so far in order to see a baby? (If you’re interested in a little more about who they might have been and why they cared, I talk about that in this presentation.)
These guys stand quietly in the background of most every nativity scene, wearing their strange robes and crazy hats. They are not the main characters in the Christmas story. But they offer us an interesting opportunity to think about the journey of seeking God.
While we do not know much about the wise men, we do know these important things:
These men were seekers. They wanted to know the truth. They studied. They looked for wisdom. The wise men even looked outside of their own tradition, outside of their own religious background. They were not content to just sit and passively take in what they were told. They were seekers.
Not only were they seeking knowledge in ancient books and scriptures, they were watching the world around them. Quite a few people had access to the Jewish scriptures, containing the prophecies of the Messiah. But it seems that only these few noticed this strange light in the heavens and made the connection. The wise men were engaged in their world, watching for signs of God.
When the wise men finally saw this sign, they dropped everything. The possibility that this was a Divine moment captivated them, and they followed. This journey was not a light overnighter. This had to have taken months. Like any long trip, it took planning. It took a whole lot of money to outfit a caravan, to employ guards, to buy provisions, and places to stay along the way. But their commitment to find where God was showing up caused them to re-organize their whole lives. Their time, their comfort, their money –- all of it was tied up in finding Jesus.
This journey was a massive step of faith. They had some ancient scripture (not even from their own tradition). They had this strange light in the sky. But they had no guarantees. They had no address, no GPS to get them there safely. There was no promise that they would find anything after all their effort. The wise men simply had hope that the words of scripture were true, that they could make the long journey safely, and that they would get to see this baby king. That is the very definition of faith. Trusting God’s leading without guarantees, trusting so much that you step out and you follow.
Along the way, the wise men brought their very best gifts. They were seeking God but not for what they could get out of the journey. They were seeking with the intent to give. That is what the Bible means by worship. We bring what we have to give to God. We bring our best. That is what these wise men were bringing: things that were precious, that mattered, that were costly.
Are We This Wise?
It is easy to ignore the journey and commitment of these wise men. They are not the ones that Christmas is about, after all. And yet, they have something to offer us: an example, perhaps inspiration. When I consider my own spiritual journey, what do I see?
Do I long for God enough to make this kind of trip? Fortunately, I do not have to trek across the desert. Jesus has already come. God is pursuing us. But we get to decide how we will respond when God shows up. We get to decide how central God will be to our own lives.
As you celebrate Christmas this year, consider the wise men, and ask yourself these questions:
- Are we seekers or sitters? Do we really care to know truth? Do we seek it out?
- Are we watchers? Do we retreat from the world into a comfortable space, or do we engage the world, looking for where God might show up?
- Do we follow? When we have a sense that God is asking something of us, do we follow through? Do we re-organize our lives so that we can follow where God is leading? Are we willing to make God’s priorities the very center of our lives?
- Do we step out in faith? Do we require guarantees from God? Or are we willing to follow even when we do not know the outcome?
- Are we worshippers? Do we seek God simply for what we can get out of it? Or do we bring our very best gifts to honor God? Do we give the best of our time, our emotion, our resources to honor God?
Where Is Your Christmas Journey Headed?
Christmas tells us that God has come seeking us. We do not have to be separated. We are not alone. We are loved. Jesus’ Christmas name is Immanuel. It means “God is with us.” God is near. God wants a relationship with you. God wants you to know Him.
God is seeking you. That is great news. But Christmas also offers an invitation. How will you respond to God? Will you seek God in your life? Will you watch for God in your world? Will you follow where God leads? Will you have faith that does not demand guarantees but chooses to live out of trust? Will you worship, offering the best you have to God in gratitude for His love and for your life?
In Jeremiah 29:13 God made a promise. God said: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” This is what the wise men did, and it is ultimately what made them wise. This Christmas let them be an example to you and an invitation for your own life.
Marc Alan Schelske writes about life at the intersection of grace and growth at MarcAlanSchelske.com where this article was originally published (It is reprinted here with permission). He is the teaching elder at Bridge City Community Church in Milwaukie, Oregon, where he has served for 18 years. He's the author of Discovering Your Authentic Core Values. Marc is a husband, dad of two, speaker, writer, hobbyist theologian, recovering fundamentalist who drinks tea and rides a motorcycle. You can follow him on Twitter at @Schelske
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