ADVENT: Magi, Faith & Anticipation

Advent, (from Latin adventus, “coming”), in the Christian church calendar, the period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and also of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ….  In many countries it is marked by a variety of popular observances, such as the lighting of Advent candles, one on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. – Encyclopedia Britannica

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:1-4

As I get older, I find it more difficult to anticipate Christmas. When I was a child, the month preceding Christmas became interminably extended. Time stretched and each day was four days long. December the 25th could never come quickly. And even though I waited, and time slowed in the waiting, Christmas had a nearness because it was always on my mind.

And then some time ago–I wish I knew the day, though I believe it happened gradually–Christmas didn't seem as far away as it used to be. It became the event after finals, or the reason for the long weekend, or even the day that I didn't have to work the next week. I suppose I put it off to focus on eliminating the mundane and the pressing, figuring I would come back when I had some unadulterated time to devote to reflection and anticipation. And somehow Christmas arrived more quickly than when I was a child, but only like a destination arrives more quickly to the one who sleeps through the journey.

The Christmas story speaks of the Magi who arrived bearing gifts from East, who read the signs and understood that the new star blazing in the heavens signified the birth of a new king. Theirs is the story of those who anticipate Christmas. Some have suggested that they may have been the spiritual offspring of Daniel, the prophet that received the vision of the time of the Messiah's arrival, which would place the beginning of their anticipation in the time of the Babylonian captivity. Regardless, they correctly read the signs and had enough faith, enough confidence in the evidence, to embark on a four-year journey to pay homage to the child.

I remember over twenty years ago when the Wise Men took on particular importance for me in recapturing the anticipation I had as a child. For the preceding 7 months, my family had been in the process of adopting my sister from China.  As Christmas approached, all the necessary paperwork was completed and we simply needed to receive the phone call allowing my parents to bring her home from Guangzhou. There was a very good chance that it would come before Christmas so we waited with expectancy.  During our waiting, I thought of the Magi and their anticipation. They did not wait with “whether” in their heart, but with “when?”  We knew with certainty that my sister would come, but we did not know the time. During the waiting, I could not escape the Magi, and the length of time they must have actively sought signs of the coming child.  Not that I solved their mystery in waiting, or fully realized how to truly anticipate Christmas, but I began to see them as an archetype for those who would wait and anticipate. They have since come to my mind each December, the symbol of those who look forward to the arrival of Christmas Day.

Even in typing I can't help but feel that I've still been missing the point all these years, that by focusing on the Magi, I've made the means the end. Just as the star pointed the Wise Men to the house of the child, so too the Wise Men point the way to something greater than Solomon: a child that gives to those who would receive Him the right to become children of God, a king whose kingdom can only be received by those with the faith of a child.  As we begin the season of Advent, may we remember Christ’s birth and look forward to His return, the Second Christmas, with the faith of children and the Magi, for, as Charles Dickens captured in his tale of one soul's redemption, "[I]t is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself..."