I love to go on journeys. The very idea of heading on an adventurous trip to a far away place and all the unique and amazing experiences that come with it gets my juices flowing. If its somewhere I’ve never been then that’s even better. During my college years, I would often jump into my Mazda B5200 truck in the middle of the night and decide it was time to take a trip. Whether it was to the mountains or the ocean, with friends or flying solo, it was just the idea of going somewhere and looking for adventure that motivated me. A journey is defined ‘ as the act of traveling from one place to another. ’ It is seen as a literal geographical movement from one location to another.
This fall I’ve been on two amazing journey’s. The first including packing up my bride and four daughters and travelling to 4100 miles across the U.S. in the mini-van to Lincoln, Nebraska. Along the way we visited family and friends, ventured to cities and states we’d never been before, and enjoyed an amazing time of family bonding. We saw beautiful sunsets and amazing rock formations. We viewed desert and mountains and flatlands along the way. We experienced snow, torrent rain, and blazing heat all in the same day. We encountered a vomiting episode with my six year old, which rivaled something out of The Exorcist all while driving 80 miles an hour down the I-25 in Colorado. We got lost, found our way, got lost again, and eventually made our destination. We laughed and complained, argued and agreed, delighted and felt frustration. It was truly delightful. Why? Because it was an adventure and it was with the people I cared most about.
The second journey took me on a plane all the way across the globe to near east. This journey was also with people but a group of individuals unknown to me. I travelled with a team from Hume Lake and we hosted international camps for missionary kids in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This time I encountered foreign lands, languages, and cultures. I rode in a Song Thaew (pickup trucks converted into passenger/cargo carrying vehicle), watched a grown man kiss a cobra on the head, rode an elephant, and ate Thai delicacies that left me grasping for the Tums. I met new people, made new friendships, and forged bonds with individuals that will last the rest of my life. It also was truly a delight because it was new and exhilarating and life changing.
Most of us are drawn the journey. For centuries literature has produce some of the most epic journeys that people have undertaken. From Homer’s Odyssey to the Arthurian legends of the quest to find the Holy Grail to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is something powerful in these tales of adventure that resonates with us. We are inspired and moved by stories of men and women who risk everything and set out on a long journey to acquire knowledge or possession. As we read and watch our protagonists explore exotic locations and cultures, face grave danger and overcome deadly obstacles we find inspiration and encouragement.
The Bible is full of journeys. Abraham leaves behind his homeland and family to journey to a new land that God had promised to show him. Moses leads an entire nation of people out of Egypt to head towards that Promised Land. Joseph and Mary must set out from Galilee to head to their ancestral town of Bethlehem in order to be registered. Pregnant with child, this journey is both treacherous and dangerous for mother and child.
There is another journey that takes place in the Scriptures that I have been thinking about a lot during this Christmas season. It’s the one that some wise men from the East took in order to find a baby boy. It’s the story of the Magi.
We have a lot of misconceptions about these men. Most of them stem from tradition, not from the text itself. We usually assume that there are three although the Bible never makes reference to a number. Three is in correlation to the number of gifts given to Jesus. Its been thought that they were kings (think ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are) but this also in not mention in the text. Matthew in fact gives very little detail about these men. We don’t know what country they came from, what faith background they had, or how they knew the meaning of the star. They simply left everything in order to follow a star and find a king.
There must have been something about this star, something so majestic and powerful that it would make these men willing to leave their homeland, travel across distant lands, and face many dangers. While they
may have been scholars who were well versed in astronomy and astrology and may have indeed understood the significance of the star, to leave behind everything and embark on such a journey required great faith and courage.
As I read through the pages of Matthew and unpack the Magi’s journey, I’m reminded that there are two main characters in this story. One is mentioned, the other is not. The one that is not written about in the text is God, interestingly enough. You would think that his name would pop up in the narrative but it conspicuously absent. Yet God is indeed the primary mover in this story. It is God who reveals and leads the wise men to Jesus.
God is a revealing God. He is not some pie in the sky deity that we are left to conjure up ideas and thoughts about him. Instead He is the creator of the universe who steps into his creation and allows himself to be seen. From Genesis to Exodus to the Gospels and to the Acts of the Apostles, the glory of God is declared and revealed (Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19). God speaks to us, both as an audible voice that Abraham, Moses, and Paul heard as well as in the written word of the Bible given to all of us. He revealed himself to the Magi through the use of a star and they are drawn to him.
It is clear the magi are on a journey; it is their response to the star that brings them to Bethlehem and before Mary and the Christ child. I love the reaction of the men as they recognize that they were close. “ When they saw the star, the rejoiced exceedingly with great joy ” (Matthew 2:10). It wasn’t enough to state that they were excited; Matthew repeats the statement multiple times in the sentence. It’s the Bible’s way of making a point. God is holy, holy, holy. The wise men are joyful, joyful, joyful.
Their joy leads them to worship. They fall down before Christ and acknowledge him as royal and worthy of their praise. As the psalmist of old wrote, “ Oh come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before our Lord, our Maker ” (Psalm 95:6). They offered him gifts of expensive value – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Reverence and adoration filled their hearts and they laid down their offerings before Jesus. Worship is the proper response when we recognize that our journey has found its destination, that our quest has found its conclusion. The wise men may have physically journeyed to Bethlehem to find a king; but they also had been on a spiritual journey, one they were not aware of. They had found the God of the universe, wrapped in human form, and their lives would never be the same.
The story of the Magi ends abruptly. “ And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way ” (verse 12). What became of their lives? Did this journey change them forever? I wonder how often they retold the story to their family and friends? Did they write it down so others could share in their tale for generations to come? As often, the Bible doesn’t give us a ‘ happily ever after ’ ending. But it does leave us with the sense that their journey was worth sharing and their experiences worth pondering. For us during this Christmas season, what does our journey to Jesus look like? Are we aware of God’s leading us to Christ? Do we respond with worship and adoration? Do we leave changed and transformed? My prayer is that as we consider the act of traveling from one place to another is that we would recognize that each of us is on a journey and the ultimate destination is Jesus Christ.
“And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” (Matthew 2:6)