You’ve been waiting for that new job or that graduate school acceptance letter — and now you have it, and it’s time to work. You’ve been waiting to get engaged — and now you are, and it’s time to plan a wedding. You’ve been waiting to take the plunge and move across country — and now you have, and it’s time to get out and explore.
As in all things, a sense of comfort develops in the waiting period, perhaps alongside the anxiety and trepidation. Just because what you’ve been waiting for is something good, that doesn’t mean the sudden disappearance of the comfortable waiting period isn’t jarring, even unwanted.
Throughout Advent, we were waiting for God. Advent is a poignant season because we wait for God to show up in our lives in so many ways, through new and life-altering events. And as young people, are we not in a season of life-altering events? New jobs, new degrees, new homes, new additions to our families? It seems that so much always hinges on God’s next big invitation.
So, Christmas: God arrives in our lives in a big way. All of creation exhales that deep sigh of relief because Christ is born; Jesus, whom we’ve awaited, has arrived. And while the Christmas season lasts a handful of days into January, the next season is one we call “ordinary,” and we’re left with the perpetual question: Now what?
Because sometimes that job isn’t all we’d hoped for; graduate school is hard; raising a child is hard; moving to a new place is overwhelming. What we waited for suddenly becomes too much. Wouldn’t it have been easier if nothing had changed?
Enter the three magi, a new year, and a moment of epiphany. We make resolutions as a way to usher in the New Year: changes we pledge to make to improve our lives and those of others. I wonder, though, if the story of the magi doesn’t offer us something a little deeper.
Let’s recap: Three individuals travel to a country not their own, enter into customs and ways of living to which they are not accustomed (they weren’t Jewish), to find … what? To encounter … whom? Did they really know? And all the way, they follow a star, a bright if distant pinpoint in the sky that ushers them across unknown terrain, through strange lands, past stranger people. And they meet this infant and his parents and deposit their gifts and, well, they leave. They go back. And we don’t hear from them again.
There’s more than a little mystery in this story — though I readily admit to being no biblical scholar. The vignette leaves me with many good questions to ponder, questions that have helped me muddle onward when I otherwise may have thrown in the towel.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:9)
I wonder what those stars are in each of our lives. More to the point, I wonder what those stars have come and stopped over, where Christ waits for us.
I’ll say this: When I moved to Bolivia after graduating from college, I thought the period of waiting was over, and, though a bit anxious about what I might find during my year of service, I assumed I would find it readily. My time of discernment was over; my time of doing had arrived. So when the experience was quite different from what I’d anticipated, when I found myself considering returning home early, uncertain of what I’d come there for in the first place, I was forced to question if I’d discerned incorrectly.
It wasn’t a matter of me having discerned incorrectly, though; it was a matter of returning to what my discernment had revealed in the first place. Why was I there? Why had I wanted to travel to Latin America? What desires had God put on my heart that this experience was testing — purifying, even? What was the star that had led me, and how could I follow after it again? Where was God waiting for me?
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Matthew 2:2)
Bolivia was a long year. The year that followed — one of much discernment and minimal employment — was, too. But now, nearly two years later, I have a great job, I have an awesome wife, I live in a great apartment in a new city, surrounded by good friends. A lot of waiting games have ended, and, arguably, I’ve wound up a winner. Though — and you’ll find this hard to believe — not everything is perfect. I still have work to do, both on myself and on the world around me. I haven’t gotten to the end of that larger game.
And so, l follow the star — a journey that never ends, a journey that grounds me in and reminds me of who I was, who I am, and who I am called to be. The waiting ends. We find Christ every day. If we set our sights on the right star, it always comes and stops where God desires us to be.
But just as the magi “departed for their country by another way,” so too do we. We don’t dwell in the manger; we carry Christ into the world. We don’t linger with the acceptance letter in hand, in the hospital cradling the newborn, at the altar exchanging rings. We look up to see where that star is pointing, and we set out.