One of my favorite things about Christmas is Nativity scenes. I find such a beautiful spirit when I enjoy a Nativity, and I’m always impressed by the symbols within the Nativity scenes. But I’m also impressed by the examples within the Nativity as well.
The wise men, common figures in Nativity scenes, have long been examples I’ve admired. Their driving desire to see and worship Christ, their enduring effort to do so, and their great love for Him inspire me every year.
So this month, we’re going to take a good look at their example. We can learn so much from them about how to come to Christ and give our hearts to Him.
The Beginnings of the Wise Men
The account of the wise men visiting Jesus is found in Matthew 2, but it doesn’t really give us a lot of information about the wise men. Christian traditions have named the wise men and their origins, but as the Bible doesn’t actually state how many wise men there were, who they were, and where they came, this information remains a mystery today.
Despite this, there is information we can infer about the wise men based on what is told in Matthew’s account. The wise men’s story begins:
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.Matthew 2:1-2, KJV
These two verses are short but still manage to give us important background information about these men.
- They traveled a long distance from the east
- They knew about the Jews and about Jewish scriptures/traditions
- They believed Jewish scriptures/traditions
- They tracked the stars, so they could recognize when a new one appeared
Now, what does this information have to do with coming to Christ?
I’d say that it means these men were faithful believers in the Jewish Messiah, were well-versed in the scriptures that prophesied of the Messiah, and knew the signs that would announce the arrival of the Messiah.
In other words, the wise men were prepared for Christ; they watched for Him, and they waited for Him.
So when He came, they were ready.
3 Things the Wise Men Did Before Christ’s Coming
1. The Wise Men Carefully Prepared
As I mentioned, the wise men clearly knew about and believed in Jewish traditions and prophecies. For the wise men to come to Christ when they did, they had to know what the appearance of the star meant. They had to know where Christ was prophesied to be born. They had to believe that the Jewish Messiah was real and that He was someone to worship.
And to know all of that, the wise men had to have spent loads of time studying the scriptures, familiarizing themselves with prophecies, and learning the signs and how to recognize the signs when they appeared.
And they must have done this preparation before the star appeared, otherwise they wouldn’t have recognized it for the sign it was.
Personal preparation is key for us to follow Christ. If we don’t know who He is or why He is important, we won’t know that we need to follow Him. If we don’t know the signs of His coming (His Second Coming, in our case) we won’t know that the time for His coming is close. If we haven’t learned what He has sacrificed for us, we won’t be able to really know His infinite love for us.
The wise men were prepared spiritually and intellectually for the sign of the Messiah’s birth.
Today, we can prepare the same way. And if we want more details about how we can prepare ourselves to follow Christ (or continue following Christ), I think we can look to the account of the sons of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon.
2 …they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.Alma 17:2-3
Even though we don’t have an account of how exactly the wise men prepared themselves, I imaging it to be similar to the preparation of the sons of Mosiah. Both groups of men were ready and willing to give everything for Christ when the time came, and that kind of strength is born out of careful preparation.
2. The Wise Men Actively Watched
The wise men knew about the signs and prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. But that knowledge wouldn’t have done them much good if they hadn’t been watching for the signs to come and fulfill those prophecies. If they hadn’t been actively watching for the signs, they never would have known it was time to go to Christ.
Matthew’s account only says that the wise men saw Christ’s star; it doesn’t say anything about how many nights these men would have had to study the skies, learning the stars and their positions, to even be able to recognize that a new star had appeared. The account also says nothing about their consistent efforts to watch for the star to appear at all.
The wise men never would have known for certain that the prophesied star would appear in their lifetimes. They couldn’t have known absolutely that Christ would be born while they were alive. Because they were well-versed in the prophesies and signs, they may have known that the time was close. But His coming was something no one would have known.
But they watched anyway. They made the effort anyway. They learned what they needed to learn so they could watch for fulfillment of the signs. Their faith that the signs would be fulfilled, that a star would appear, shows us that we don’t need to know exactly when Christ will come to start preparing and watching for Him.
Believing that He will come is enough to start.
Christ will come to the earth again. And we’ve already received signs that His coming is drawing near. Are we watching for those signs? Do we know what the signs of His Second Coming are so we can watch for them?
The example of the wise men shows us that we can—and should—start watching now, if we haven’t already. We need to learn—now—what we need to learn to be able to recognize the signs when they come.
3. The Wise Men Patiently Waited
Waiting and watching are similar things. I want to say, again, that the wise men didn’t know when Christ would come. They didn’t know if their efforts to prepare and watch would end with them at the feet of the child Messiah. They didn’t know they’d live to see Him.
But they persisted. And they waited. These men could have waited years, decades even, constantly preparing and watching just so they’d be ready to go meet Christ if He did come in their lifetimes. They wanted that opportunity, if the opportunity was given, so they waited patiently, and as they waited, they did everything they could to make sure they would be ready for it.
Elder Holland has said,
My beloved brothers and sisters, Christianity is comforting, but it is often not comfortable. The path to holiness and happiness here and hereafter is a long and sometimes rocky one. It takes time and tenacity to walk it. But, of course, the reward for doing so is monumental. This truth is taught clearly and persuasively in the 32nd chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon. There this great high priest teaches that if the word of God is planted in our hearts as a mere seed, and if we care enough to water, weed, nourish, and encourage it, it will in the future bear fruit “which is most precious, … sweet above all that is sweet,” the consuming of which leads to a condition of no more thirst and no more hunger.
Many lessons are taught in this remarkable chapter, but central to them all is the axiom that the seed has to be nourished and we must wait for it to mature; we “[look] forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof.” Our harvest, Alma says, comes “by and by.” Little wonder that he concludes his remarkable instruction by repeating three times a call for diligence and patience in nurturing the word of God in our hearts, “waiting,” as he says, with “long-suffering … for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.”Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Waiting On the Lord,” October 2020
We may never live to see Christ’s Second Coming. He may come well after our lifetimes. But maybe He will come while we’re all still alive. Whether He does or not doesn’t matter so much as whether or not we are ready to meet Him. And even though that preparation and watching can take a long time and a lot of effort, patiently waiting through the difficulties and effort will refine us. And when Christ does come, we will be ready to go to Him.
Check Out Last Year’s Christmas Series
Last year’s Christmas articles highlighted elements of the Nativity as symbols foreshadowing Christ’s life and mission. You can find out more about the symbols in these articles linked below!