For most of us, their figurines are probably already back in the garage or attic, in holiday hibernation with all of the other seasonal decorations for the next eleven months. Likewise, though the liturgical purists among us may fuss about it, in most churches we probably won’t be singing about those three kings and the star of wonder this week, for we’ve pretty much moved on from Christmas, even though the calendar (and that insipid song) tell us that Epiphany doesn’t actually arrive until the twelfth day of Christmas or January 6 each year.
But all of that simply begs the question, I think, of what took those wise men so long to get to Bethlehem in the first place. For by the time they showed up at the scene, Mary and Joseph had not only moved out of the stable and into the house (Matthew 2.11), but it’s clear that they had been living there for some time or so since the birth of their son Jesus, perhaps as long as a year or more.
The prescribed period in Leviticus 12 for Mary’s ritual purification following childbirth, for instance, was at least forty days, after which the new parents then presented Jesus to be dedicated to the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem, some six miles from Bethlehem but eighty from Nazareth. And the fact that they did so by offering only a few birds suggests that they did not yet have the necessary funds which those gifts from the Wise Men would have provided to even purchase the prescribed “lamb of the first year” in the dedication of the Lamb of God Himself.
We can certainly sympathize too with the travel delays that those Persian visitors might have incurred, for holiday trips can be a bear for everyone, and if you throw a crazy man like Herod into the mix, it can get even worse. Still, they could have started sooner, we may think, and as has often been observed, if there had been some wise women among them, they might not have gotten lost along the way in the first place.
In the end, however, the only real answer for the delay is that God was not just in the instance of the Incarnation, but He was in the timing of the whole matter as well. For before they returned to Nazareth, like those ancient Israelites whose pattern Jesus came to model and perfect, the Holy Family escaped to Egypt where they could be safe until Herod’s death.
To be sure, neither Joseph nor Mary had probably planned on such an extended time away when they left Nazareth before Jesus was born. Nor did the wise men figure it would take them as long as it did, or require them to figure out an alternate way to go back unnoticed by Herod in Jerusalem. But God not only knew precisely the where and why of it all, He also knew the when.
And it strikes me that He still does in our lives as well. For when detours and delays may unexpectedly occur, it may simply be a sign that God is not just in our years but in the days and even moments we experience, as well, directing the traffic of our lives as He knows best. If you’re looking for a miracle in your life today, thus, you may want to pay a little closer attention to God’s perfect timing, for that’s often where you will find it. And in the end, those who are wise indeed seek Him still.
Even if it does take a little longer than they planned.