The shepherds popped into town to see if the Messiah really had been born but the Magi traveled hundreds of miles with the certainty that they would find the Messiah when they arrived.
Although it seems odd that these people from a foreign land, culture and religion would see so clearly what God was doing when for the most part the Jews could not, there is a simple explanation.
Hundreds of years earlier the Jewish people had been conquered and many of them were taken as captives to Babylon. One of these exiles was called Daniel who insisted on being honest about his faith wherever he went. Living out his faith and speaking about it openly got him into real trouble and on one occasion he was even thrown to the lions 😦 but miraculously God saved him :). Living out his faith got Daniel into trouble but it also earned him respect as well with people listening to what he was saying.
On one occasion Daniel was praying and the angel Gabriel (who also appeared to Mary) told him that the Messiah was coming. Gabriel said that there would be 69 sets of seven from when the command was given to rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah came (Daniel 9.26). If this is interpreted as years it equals 483 and the Jewish rebuilding documented in Ezra and then later Nehemiah could fit with this timeline. (It is hard to know which decree to return to Jerusalem that the prophecy refers to and also what the exact dates that those decrees took place so being mathematically precise is not possible). The Magi would have had a more accurate understanding of these dates and so perhaps they were watching and waiting. (I’m certainly no expert on the history of the Old Testament and the language of Daniel 9 is certainly confusing. It is also possible that the 69 sets of 7 may be referring to something other than years that we don’t fully understand).
What is clear though is that Daniel spoke about the Messiah who was coming and hundreds of years later his words gave the Magi the confidence to set out on a journey to visit the newborn Messiah.
I guess we don’t always know the impact that we are having!
It would have been much easier for Daniel to be assimilated into the Babylonian religion but following God was too important to him and so he lived out his faith honestly and passionately.
The journey of the Magi started hundreds of miles away from Bethlehem but it also started hundreds of years earlier thanks to Daniel being open to God being at work in and through him.
How about us, will we have the courage and determination of Daniel? After all, we can never know the impact we will have!
This is a part of a series of short thoughts for advent to help us to consider the events surrounding the birth of Jesus as we prepare ourselves for Christmas. You can look at the other advent reflections by clicking here.