By: Rachel Herbeck
When we think about the Christmas story, I think some of the most underrated characters are the three wise men. Have you ever stopped and thought about what they did or how random they were? In recent years, my only encounter with the wise men on Christmas was through the cheesy Justin Bieber Christmas lyrics, “The wise men followed the star, the way I followed my heart, and it led me to a miracle”. I know, not a great thing to associate with the wise men. But this year I’ve been intrigued by the role of the wise men in the nativity.
So, what exactly do we know about these guys? Tradition holds that three Magi (wise men), saw the Star in the sky and followed it all the way to the baby Jesus, where they worshipped Him and offered Him gifts. Matthew discusses the wise men in his Gospel:
“Ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:9-11).
St. Augustine tells us that the wise men most likely followed the star for 1,000-1,200 miles, a journey that would have taken at least three to six months on camel. He also points out that they would have needed to prepare extensively for this kind of journey, and that when all was said and done, they probably would have reached Jesus a little over a year after first seeing the Star. To summarize: these guys spent over a year following a star in the sky to an unknown location, unsure of exactly what they were looking for, and made it to the newly born baby Jesus.
In this Christmas season, I’m particularly convicted and called on by the wise men. The faith and trust it took to follow that star is often unnoticed. I want to lay out three lessons we can learn from the wise men this Christmas:
Prepare for the Journey: The wise men saw the star, and spent at least six months preparing for their journey to follow it. They packed food and gathered all of the necessary items for a successful journey. While during Advent we journey toward Christmas, it is only a part of our larger journey toward Heaven. How we receive Jesus on Christmas helps to keep us strong and nourished for the entire journey. So how are we preparing for the Christmas journey and how are we continuously preparing for our heavenly journey? Just as the wise men gathered food and survival items, we need to nourish ourselves with daily prayer, the Word of God, and participation in community life.
Follow the Star with Renewed Faith: Through our entire lives, and particularly throughout the Advent and Christmas season, Jesus provides us with lights in our lives to find Him in new and more powerful ways. But, how often do we feel like we are following these lights blindly? How often does the journey of faith feel unending and arduous? (Not unlike riding across the desert on a camel for six months with no sense of where you are going.) But in our case, we know the destination of our journey: an encounter with Christ, and ultimately Heaven. This Advent season, Jesus gives us our own stars to follow to His manger and deeper into His childlike heart. The wise men were convicted that the Star was leading them to the Savior, even if they didn’t know what that looked like or what to expect. Are we convicted that the stars that Jesus gives us to follow are really leading to Him? If not, let us renew our faith, and follow these lights with haste, conviction, and certainty that they lead to our good, our salvation, and our Savior.
Offer Everything to the Baby Jesus: In the passage from Matthew, it describes the wise men worshipping Jesus and offering Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh- all things of great value. It may seem strange that the wise men offered these gifts to a baby, after all, what could a baby do with these things? But these offerings represent Jesus’ desire for us to give Him our most valuable when He is at His most vulnerable.
Jesus comes to humanity as an infant - a helpless little child - the most unassuming way for the King of the universe to approach us. But He comes this way on purpose. He comes to us as a baby so that we may approach Him, so that we may be drawn in by the smallness and vulnerability of our God. He makes Himself small so that we feel comfortable and safe bringing our most valuable possessions to Him. And for each of us, the most valuable thing that we have is our hearts. Let us follow the example of the wise men and approach the baby Jesus with adoration and complete self-gift. This Christmas, don’t hold anything back from our Lord, pour your heart out before Him, for He has been born to receive your heart.
The three wise men provide us with a unique example of faith, perseverance, and intense and humble love. With what is left of Advent, let us model ourselves after the wise men, following the guidance of Jesus with complete faith and trust and receiving Him with adoration and love.