After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.” When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12, Common English Bible)
Having never ridden a camel before, I am not about to say what it would be like to make the journey of the magi. I think the closest I could come would be riding horseback. Without question I don’t know what camel back riding would be like but it really doesn’t look very comfortable.
I do have some limited knowledge of what it is like to spend a few hours on horseback. Admittedly I was much younger then and I carried significantly fewer pounds around my mid-section. Even with what knowledge I have, it is difficult for me to imagine driving a herd of cows to market during the days of the old American west.
Let’s just face the simple facts as they are, if I have a distance to travel I am going to get in my car to go. If I am really in a hurry I might fly. If I want more of an adventure I might catch a bus or a train. There is no doubt, I will not be making the journey on a camel or even a horse.
The Bible doesn’t say from where the magi actually came. In my research I found speculation for any distance from Babylon (about 900 miles) to The Forbidden City in China (some 4400 miles away). Assuming 25 miles per day that would mean the magi traveled between 36 and 176 days to reach Jesus and worship him. That is between just over one month to just under six months of riding on a camel just to see a baby.
Earlier in my career I served congregations in Lovelady Texas and Grapeland Texas. In between Lovelady and Grapeland is the county seat, Crockett Texas. One day something clicked in my mind. These three towns are 13 miles apart. It is thirteen miles from Lovelady to Crockett and another 13 miles from Crockett to Grapeland. That same 13 mile theme goes south from Lovelady to first Trinity and then another 13 miles to Riverside. Going east from Crockett it is 13 miles to Kennard.
So what is my point? Each of these towns have a United Methodist Church either in the town itself or not far outside the town (I was pastor of the church in Kennard too. It is not far outside town). So, these churches are thirteen miles apart. It is my guess that the location of the towns had more to do with the railroad than anything. With the exception of Kennard, the Union-Pacific Railroad connects each town. But the churches, these churches were strategically located at a reasonable distance for horse travel, either on horseback or carriage, for a family to travel between home, church and back again.
When you think about the magi, they traveled between one and six months to go and see Jesus. To spend time with God and the body of Christ, for residence of East Texas in the days of the Old West was an all day affair. Both were a real sacrifice that was made willingly.
Today, most all of us have cars that reduce travel time considerably. For many of us, it isn’t close to thirteen miles between churches. At most, going to church isn’t a sacrifice of more than a couple of hours. Yet many people, and a number that continues to grow, won’t make the small sacrifice. For the magi, it was worth it. For the residents of old East Texas, it was worth it. It makes me wonder why a small sacrifice is so difficult for so many of us to live out. It makes me wonder, would the magi and the settlers of the old west question our faith? Would they ask, “Hey, what’s your problem?”
God expects us to be about worship and fellowship with the Body of Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…” (Luke 16:1oa, New International Version)
What would happen if God expected even more from us? I think God does.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Peace,
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved