Have you ever wondered how the wise men knew one particular bright star shining in the east was different from all of the others, and must be followed? I never gave it much thought until today. It's funny how you can read the same passages of Scripture over and over again and never really stop to picture them. As I sat here imagining the wise men, a few things came to mind and I thought I would share them.
I wondered why the wise men were watching the stars any way. Was it something they did regularly or did one of them just happen to look up at the sky on that one evening, and marvel at the brightness of a single star? A pit fall of growing up in the church is that you can lose your imagination because the biblical text is portrayed the same way over and over again...especially this time of year. Mary and Joseph always look middle aged- even though they were actually young, the shepherds always look like a motley crew in a bunch of used-to-be bathrobes, and the wise men don't appear wise at all. They're just three men with crowns on their heads who show up late to an important event. I never gave much thought as to what exactly a wise men was. I had heard them referred to as the Magi but I just thought that's what people called them when they were trying to be fancy! It turns out that the word "Magi" gives a better idea of who they were. The Magi were a caste of wise men specializing in astrology, medicine, and natural science. They were in the habit of watching the stars and studying how they influenced human affairs. They would have been regularly watchful and alert to any subtle or not so subtle signs of things to come.
This new found knowledge has captured my attention. I am captivated by the thought that wise men/women are watchful. Perhaps this is because of some recent conversations I've had about complacency. A few nights ago I shared dinner with a friend who is concerned about the possibility of growing complacent in her relationship with Christ. It strikes me, that the best way to avoid complacency is to be watchful...aware. Aware of the many subtle ways that God speaks to us. Conscious of the fact that He can and will use any and every means to get our attention. Watchful for opportunities to share His love with others. We need to be alert students of the Word so that we can recognize His ways and follow them, in the midst of all the other ways that this dark world is pulling us. Every moment we have breath can be a teachable moment with God...if we pay attention.
Maybe that is the problem...we get too busy and distracted to pay attention. Or...perhaps we only expect God to show up and speak to us in certain ways. We know He'll be at church or in our small group so we are watchful there. Meanwhile, He's been speaking to us through our kids all week and we missed Him! Sometimes we wait until we find ourselves in desperate situations and then we look for a sign from Him around every corner. When we're in a crisis we are vigilant in our watch for Him. As is often the case, He doesn't show up in the big manner in which we are expecting Him and we conclude that He's missing. The reality is, if we had been consistently watchful before we needed a huge sign from heaven, we would have seen that He was there all along in the minutest of details.
The wise men studied the stars in the dark night sky. Those stars probably shone brightly from where they were standing. The air quality would have been much better back then and the night sky would have been pitch black without any electrical lights. Every star would have looked bright. They had spent so much time being watchful. Their eyes must have adjusted to seeing the differences in stars, noticing the details that casual star gazers like me might miss...details like position. In Matthew 2:1-2 They ask King Herod, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." They had been watching. They noted the position of this particular star, and because of this they didn't miss the fact that Christ was here.
I don't want to miss Him either, do you? There are some things we can do to be watchful. We can have willing hearts. Hearts that are ready to hear Him speak to us no matter where we are, how busy we are, and through whomever He chooses. We can pray for hearts that aren't weighed down with sin or hardened... soft and teachable hearts that anticipate learning from Him. We can study the Word in order to have a solid understanding of who God is, how He works, and what matters to Him. This will help us to discern His voice from all the others. I don't know about you, but I want to be a wise men/woman...ever watchful, full of anticipation, and acutely aware of His regular presence and purposes at work in all aspects of my life.