I was struck recently when thinking about the two sets of visitors we traditionally see at the nativity scene just how different they were. On one side of the manger you have shepherds, and on the other you have Magi. On the one side there are lowly unwashed peasants, on the other are highly educated, elegantly dressed, rich noble-men. And yet it is technically wrong for us to have both sets of figures in our nativity scene, for the wise men did not arrive until later.
The wise men came to see Jesus not at the manger but at a house, when he was a little older. They wouldn’t have been there at the same time as the shepherds. You see the shepherds heard from the angels on the night that Jesus was born, and they went with haste to see the things the angel had told them. They were only the hills outside Bethlehem and wouldn’t have had far to go in order to see Jesus. The wise men however came from the east (Matthew 2:1). We aren’t told where exactly they came from, but scholars think it could have been Persia or Arabia based on the gifts they brought, and that would mean a journey of 400 or more miles, made either on foot (which would have taken a month or more) or on camel (which would have taken a couple of weeks).
Both the shepherds and the wise men travelled to see Jesus, but both had very different journeys. For the shepherds it was a simple stroll that didn’t require any prior thought or planning. For the wise men this was a major expedition, and would not have been started on lightly. Much thought would have been given to it first.
And here’s the thing. Some of us are fortunate enough to have been raised in Christian homes. We were taught from an early age that God loves us, and never strayed too far from the narrow path. Others of us found ourselves raised far from any godly influence. We didn’t have the benefit of Sunday school and veggietales to keep us on the straight and narrow. For some of us it was a simple, short journey to accept Jesus as saviour. For others we had a long way to come (and the good news is the Father sees us while we are still a long way off – see Luke 15). But God doesn’t berate the wise men for arriving later – he knew their journey was longer.
So that’s the lesson for us today. Different people have different journeys to take them to the position of kneeling before Jesus as their Lord. For some it won’t take long. But for others it will take a lot of time, a lot of deliberation, a lot of consideration before they make that decision. And we must be patient with them. We must not give up on them. We must keep guiding and directing them along the journey, playing the role of the star, leading them to Jesus. We can’t judge people if it takes them longer than us to accept Jesus as Lord, for we don’t know the journey they have had to go on to arrive at that point. This Christmas may we be patient with all curious travellers, continually praying for them until they too reach that moment of kneeling before Jesus. May we not give up on people who don’t respond immediately but we remember the example of the wise men, whose arrival took longer, but who still arrived in the end.