. . . behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-12)
By the time you read this, you’ll have three days. Depending on when you read it, maybe less.
Three full days before Christmas. Three days to get ready, to buy what you need to buy or ship what you need to ship. The window for online orders is rapidly closing if not entirely shut already. You’ve got three days to get your place ready. Three days to get yourself ready.
Some of you are already there. No problem. Some of you are nowhere close.
When I was very young, I would feel a slight ache of sadness or let-down on Christmas evening. The day was ending, the morning discovery around our tree, the gatherings with grandparents and cousins. It was all coming to an end and would not happen again for a full year.
A year felt like eternity. Christmas seemed so far away.
Now a year seems to slip by with surprising stealth. Before I know it, it’s Christmas again. In church world, pastors and staff sometimes begin talking about Advent right after Labor Day. I’ve been lulled into thinking we have plenty of time – and then suddenly we don’t. Autumn yields to winter and Christmas is here.
Christmas day no longer seems so distant. More often, the distance is in me. The day will make its arrival – but I’m not where I’d like to be.
Late to the Party
Among the familiar Christmas stories that come to us from the New Testament gospel writers Matthew and Luke, no one was further from Christmas than the wise men, or Magi as they are often called. The Magi have been described as ‘astrological priests.’ Maybe we’re better off to think of them as a guild of scholars who studied heavenly phenomena as well as ancient texts.
We’re not exactly sure where they came from. The traditional and widely accepted answer is that they were from Persia. In his excellent book Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey makes a strong case that the Magi came from Arabia. If we accept Persia as their origin, the standard trade route to Jerusalem was about 800 miles long. Their journey in search of the newborn ‘King of the Jews’ would have taken them weeks to complete.
What we can say with confidence is that on the night of Jesus’ birth, the night that angels appeared to shepherds abiding in their fields, the night of the heavenly choir singing ‘glory to God in the highest’ because a savior had been born in the city of David – on that night, the Magi were nowhere close.
We are correct in saying that the Magi were late to the party. They missed Christmas.
Our Faithful Guide
And yet, in the truest sense, they did not miss it at all.
Yes, when the Magi arrive, Mary and Joseph and their baby are no longer in a stable. Time has passed. The swaddling clothes have been replaced with baby clothes. The infant is growing. Matthew 2:11 says that the Magi entered a house to kneel before the child and present their gifts (likely the home of a generous relative). What we should notice is that they completed their journey. They found what they were seeking.
What we should notice is that it is never too late to make your way to Jesus.
This is good news for any and all who are a long way from Christmas. My aim in these final days leading to Christmas is to encourage you on your own journey to Jesus. Will you get there by December 25th? Maybe you will. Maybe the 25th will come and go and you’ll be left feeling like you missed Christmas. This is a year in which many have had to change their practices is such a way that it just doesn’t seem like Christmas at all.
But don’t stop making your way toward Jesus.
For today, where exactly are you as Christmas Day approaches? What has made your own journey to Jesus long and difficult this year?
You may not see a star, but God will be faithful to guide you. Pray for that guidance today.
Ever faithful, ever guiding God – Christmas can come so quickly, finding us far removed from where we’d like to be. This year many familiar props have been taken from us, and we’re tempted to think this Christmas is lost to us. We pray for grace to keep making our way to Jesus. Give us what we need for the journey and lead us in your time to the place of worship. We ask this in his name. Amen.