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I must have been about seven or eight the year I had pink eye at Christmas.
I remember staying home from church one Sunday morning with my brother Matt and eating chicken noodle soup. I remember that clearly, because he didn’t realize he was supposed to add water to the can of soup. It was very salty. He only realized his mistake when he refused to give me a third cup of milk and I started crying.
I also remember lying on my living room couch staring at the lights on the tree. I remember that clearly, because the salve in my eyes made the Christmas lights turn into oversized and bulging smudges of red, blue, green, and orange. It was the 90s. It was fascinating how the glowing orbs would grow or shrink as I
The magi set out in search of the king who had been born, and they did not stop until they found him.
squinted or opened my eyes staring through that goop.
Two millennia ago, they didn’t have Christmas trees with strings of lights, but the magi, those learned men of old, must have had a similar experience as they glanced back and forth between the night sky and their wrinkled star charts, growing wide-eyed to take in the flaming flecks in the one and then squinting to make out the faded marks on the other.
These men knew that something important was written in those stars. I’m not sure how they knew. Had they read the ancient stories passed on by the Jews? Did they know that centuries earlier Abraham, also a man from the east, had looked up at the very same lights and that God had made him the very big promise that his progeny would outnumber the stars in the sky?
Maybe, maybe not. But regardless of how they knew, they knew it just the same, and they also knew something that the Jewish patriarch did not, that one of those countless children of the sky would shine brighter than the rest. Yet, just like Abraham they put their faith in the promise in the sky. They set out in search of the king who had been born, and they did not stop until they found him.
Though my seven-year-old self, the magi, and Abraham all lived in very different times and places, one common thread that ties the three together is the wait. Sometimes we love it, and sometimes we hate it, but we all have to do it. Abraham waited for a son that God had promised but never given; the magi waited for the birth of a foreign king, as odd as it seems; and I waited that year for the presents that would magically pop up under the tree on Christmas morning whether I could see them clearly or not.
Despite the common theme of waiting, however, something stands out about the magi. Abraham had to wait for Sarah to give birth to Isaac, since God had closed her womb. I, too, had to wait for Christmas to come, since I didn’t know where the gifts were hidden.
But the magi didn’t have to wait for Jesus to come. Why should they care about an ancient prediction that a baby would be born in some far off and backwater part of the Roman empire? No, they chose to wait. I don’t know why, but they did, and the strangest part is that they were right to do it, because that promised child proved to be worth waiting for.
We all have to wait, and it seems like we’re always waiting for something, whether it’s a job, a spouse, a child, or an empty checkout lane. I could ask, “What are you waiting for?” I’m sure you would think of something, and it would probably be important. But the question that the magi bring to my mind cuts closer to the heart.
It’s not “What are you waiting for?” but “What should you be waiting for?”
James Covington is a member of the Teaching Team at Grace Church NWA. He studies religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.