I don’t always feel like I am able to fully utilize Advent. Half the time, I’m so busy running around trying to get end-of-year matters finalized that Christmas is here before I know it. Yet I do make an attempt via daily prayers and family customs; I just don’t always feel like I fully entered into the season. Sometimes I’m more like a shepherd than a wise man.
Most of us have this hodge-podge of Gospel passages in our heads regarding the nativity. If you see wise men greeting Jesus, the story from Matthew is your influence. If you see shepherds following the message of an Angel, Luke’s version guides your thoughts. If your Nativity has both, over the years you’ve mingled the stories. It seems to me that most of us fit into one of the two camps at Advent.
Matthew tells us the wise men first stopped off to ask King Herod and his advisors about the location of the birth of the king of the Jews (2:2), so we can theorize the journey from the East was a long one. They didn’t even arrive in Jerusalem to visit Herod until “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (Matthew 2:1). Much preparation went into their journey, and one could argue it was weeks in the making as they set off with precious gifts to anoint a king. This was no last-minute decision.
The shepherds, on the other hand, were about their daily duties – tending sheep, and most-likely resting at the end of a long day. They were not in Bethlehem directly, but they were “in that region” where Our Lord was born (Matthew 2:8). Suddenly, an angel appeared to them announcing the birth of “the Messiah, the Lord” (Matthew 2:11). After a vision and the “angels had left them and gone into heaven,” the shepherds, “went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (Matthew 2:16). Mere hours earlier, the shepherds had no idea they would be immortalized in the story of the birth of Jesus.
Matthew and Luke use wise men and shepherds for specific reasons, but there’s another consideration that is often overlooked: Whether those who had meticulously planned a long journey or those who came along unexpectedly at the last minute, we remember both thousands of years later as examples of the type of faith that kneels before the baby, recognizing him as the Messiah. We see in both the sure faith that seeks to glorify God.
Have you been preparing for weeks now – praying, fasting, helping others and preparing for Christmas? Do you have traditions that celebrate this time of year with great anticipation? If so, my dear wise man or wise woman, your faith is precious and your preparations are not in vain. For in a matter of days, you shall receive the Lord of lords and the King of kings on Christmas day!
Is this time of year a challenge for you due to wrapping up budgets, finalizing end-of-year commitments and trying to navigate all the craziness of an over-commercialized season? Are you just now entering into Advent, realizing Christmas will be here before you know it? No worries, good shepherds, continue to honor God in your duties as you make haste to meet him at the altar on Christmas day. It is not your activity that the Lord is after; your faith is a gift from a King that is meant to be returned to Him in adoration. Rejoice!
We may not fit cleanly into either image, and that’s okay. The Christmas gift we’re given is faith, and whether we spend weeks preparing or we make a last-minute dash to Mass, the faith that recognizes the Lord of all Creation at Christmas is precious. Let’s attempt to enter into this glorious season as best we’re able, trusting that God accepts the gift of ourselves whether they come at the end of much planning or in the twinkling of a moment. Whether a shepherd or a wise man, God’s salvation is our gift, and those of us who recognize Him – by star, by angel or by some other means – rejoice in the sure knowledge of his arrival at Christmas.