Are You on the Journey of the Wise Men?

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 don’t really know much about the wise men. Most of the details you think you know have been added by tradition. (For example, the Bible doesn’t say there were three wise men. It doesn’t identify them as kings. It doesn’t 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 don’t know much about the wise men, we do know these important things:

Seekers

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.

Watchers

Not only were they seeking knowledge in ancient books and scriptures, they were watching the world around them. There were quite a few people who 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.

Followers

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 wasn’t 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.

Faithful

This journey was a massive step of faith. They had some ancient scripture (that wasn’t 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’s the very definition of faith. Trusting God’s leading without guarantees, trusting so much that you step out and you follow.

Worshippers

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’s what the Bible means by worship. We bring what we have to give to God. We bring our best. That’s what these wise men were bringing: things that were precious, that mattered, that were costly.

Are We This Wise?

It’s easy to ignore the journey and commitment of these wise men. They aren’t 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 don’t 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’s 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 doesn’t 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’s 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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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7800
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This is a wonderful, insightful, and thought provoking piece. Thank you for writing it. We should be seeking Jesus with the diligence that the wise men demonstrated. Maybe then, our worship would be more sincere and we would spread the good news that He is coming back for us soon! Like the wise men, we will find Him if we seek Him with all of our hearts.

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Evocative and eloquent.

The wise mens most vital role was to keep,the Christ child from Herod’s
appalling atrocity – the murder of the babes in Bethlehem-- surely one of the more heart rending and horrific stories in the Bible.

It is my understanding that it was the proceeds of the extravagant gifts, brought by the wise men, that funded the holy family’s flight into Egypt.

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Paul tells the steps Christ took to not only to be with but to die in our place see Phil 2:5-11. Then He invite us to walk teachable with Him, see Micah 6:8 TZ

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As we have recently been analyzing the story of Job and its connection to the Babylonian Enuma Elish, there is considerable push-back from the conservative view of the Bible, as to who wrote the stories and if they’re literal etc., we have here a snippet that has far-reaching consequences, basically ignored.

The “Magi” (also referred to as wise men) were from the East, following a star that was directing their journey to the Christ child - sounds magical, and so it could very well have been The term “Magi”, when investigated, comes from 6th century BC Zoroastrianism, with a priest, “Magus” referred to in their texts, so it seems. It’s meaning in Strong’s Concordance is sorcerer - Magi - wise man. The Magus of the Persian kind was a magician, practitioner of magic , astrology, alchemy.

As is pointed out in the article, this journeys wasn’t a momentary whim. These guys had to plan their elaborate trip far in advance - but, based on what? Did they take up this treacherous journey on the basis of some Hebrew texts referring to a Messiah that wasn’t part of their religious scope - or was it part of their astrological calculations, far in advance of the star appearing (in Pisces possibly )- regardless of the SDA belief that the “star” was actually a cluster of angels?

The interesting part of this story is that God doesn’t speak only through agents WE consider reliable. The Hebrews commandeered God for themselves, as do all religious factions. As G.K. Chesterton elaborates in his book The Everlasting Man,

The crux and crisis is that man found it natural to worship; even natural to worship unnatural things. The posture of the idol might be stiff and strange; but the gesture of the worshipper was generous and beautiful. …
In reality the rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not mingle till they meet in the sea of Christendom… Mythology, then sought God through the imagination; or sought truth by means of beauty … .

The story of the Magi is a reminder that God has various means to tell His story, some of which meanders through strange territory; through pagan myths and magic, and even astrology - emerging out of the shadows - ending up in a manger, and ultimately, on a hill, “outside the gate”. And so, we have Paul introducing, to the Greeks, their “unknown GOD”.

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So, I am all for inspiring people to seek truth and understanding, but what happens when
the credible and valid information we find informs us that our prior thinking was inaccurate?

Do we go to great lengths to deny the new evidence regardless of its credibility? Do we seek
to rationalize objective facts away? If something indicates that what we believe is true is not,
do we reject it?

SDAs are not the only ones who are willfully ignorant–and, obviously, not ALL SDAs are.
But the church’s official position of young-earth creationism is profoundly flawed and life
on earth has clearly been around for hundreds of millions of years. No sensible person
can believe what the church demands that we believe on this issue. Many try desperately
to find a way to believe. Some simply choose faith and ignorance rather than following
the facts wherever they lead–which, by the way, is not to perdition.

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Your article has made me reflect on my journey of life. It has had it’s ups and downs and hit many snags over the years. To have faith like the wisemen is a blessing we should seek. Our journey is not always smooth but filled with mountains and molehills and huge obstacles, some of them our own making. I pray that our journey will not be a smooth one but a journey filled with God’s guidance and blessings.

This is a hard question. Around the time of the birth of Jesus, the astrologers of Eastern religions were predicting the appearance of an Avatar who was expected before the end of the Age of the Ram. This Avatar would bring new spiritual understanding to mankind during the approaching Age of Pisces the fish. Great events were always expected at these change over times from the celestials who taught humans (esp astrologers)to expect and watch for significant events during these times. This tradition is foundc in the Vedic classics,Mahabarata and so on. The name Jesus has no intrinsic meaning in the English language. His name as given by Joseph /Mary was rendered as Yeshua(salvation), or yehoshua, Lord of salvation. Yeshua was a common name of the period tying for fifth place with Eleazar,behind Simon. Joseph,Judah and John . This Hebrew name was transliterated into Greek giving ‘ee-ay-SUS’ and into Latin and German giving YAY-su. The name “Jesus” could have sounded un-Jewish and unnecessarily Hellenistic at the time. However the Magians(astrologers ) believed that they were led to the birthplace of Jesus by a “star”… Was this star referring to Joseph or to one of the celestial vehicles which were seen all over the skies at the time. (UFO’s?)Even the gospel narratives seem confused, Matthew mentions no shepherds and Luke mentions no wise men. The title shepherds seem to refedr to the Pastors of the Egyptian Therapeutae who had recognised the birth of the new David heir as being legitimate. The peace they sang about referred to peace with Rome.

“Do we go to great lengths to deny the new evidence regardless of its credibility? Do we seek
to rationalize objective facts away? If something indicates that what we believe is true is not,
do we reject it?”

Yes, if it means that we would have to give up something that we cherish more.

Cognitive dissonance is a state that exists in some and something that many choose to live with this despite any evidence to the contrary. They are not “seeking” like the Wise Men because they fear where the pathway will take them. Corporately, there is yet a stronger reason to hold on to the belief as it would weaken the other cherished belief that Adventism prides itself on the 7th day as Sabbath. To give up either beliefs would be to admit that the Church is wrong…and that it can never do.

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Hi Kim. Good points. Rigid literalism dictates not basing 7th day worship on Jewish tradition or as a memorial to creation however it occurred. It has to be compliance with the Law.

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