I was struck today on the similar yet distinctive reactions of the shepherds and the magi to Jesus’ birth. While both are notified by heavenly objects – angels for the shepherds, a star for the magi – and both respond with joy by searching for the baby, their response has some sharp contrasts. The shepherds leave their flock that very night and immediately go in search of the baby (Luke 2:15-17). Of course, Jesus is in their local community and they share the news with all. Meanwhile it takes the magi up to two years to plan and accomplish their journey to Bethlehem (Matthew 2: 1-12).
I think the two reactions help us understand how many of us respond to the good news of Jesus Christ. Some of us respond immediately to the message of God’s love and embrace it with all joy at the outset. We see Jesus in our neighborhood and we respond right away. We always sense that Jesus is close by. I would place myself in this camp. I grew up knowing Jesus as my Lord.
Others need more time, more thought, and the journey is much longer. In a metaphorical way, they have to leave their own country to find Jesus in a new land. But when they do, they embrace him fully as their King. The journey and the encounter has changed them. The author Frederick Buechner describes such a spiritual odyssey in his book, The Sacred Journey (1982).
Neither the response of the shepherds nor the response of the magi is better or preferred. God uses a vast array of messengers, visions, experiences, relationships and ideas to call us to himself. I delight in the wonder of each path and journey.
Would you describe yourself as a shepherd, a magi or some other character in the Christmas story?