Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Journeys of Faith

Sometime in the three years following the birth of Christ, a group of travelers arrived in Jerusalem from an unnamed eastern country. The group, which had likely come over 1,000 miles by camel or on foot, was notable for the noble men who were their leaders-- considered wise either because of royal status or education or devotion to the gospel-- and journeyed because they recognized a new star in the heavens that testified of the birth of the Messiah.

That heralding star had likely not appeared for some time, possibly even years, when the group finally arrived in Israel's capital city. Scripture does not say exactly how long the star shone over Bethlehem nor how long this group of easterners had been traveling, but it is clear the wise men, or perhaps one or more of their wise wives, found it necessary to pull over in Jerusalem and ask for directions. Knowing they sought the King of the Jews, they inquired at the palace.

King Herod was apparently not aware of the star and its prophecy, but he certainly knew of the political threats posed in the prophesies of the Messiah. He consulted with his advisers to direct the travelers to Bethlehem and, attempting to compensate for his own unpreparedness, petitioned them to do a little scouting for him and report back to the palace.

As they walked down the palace steps, the wise men would have had every reason to question the legitimacy of their voyage. It had been so long since they saw the star-- and since then they had faced the numerous challenges and fatigues inherent to a journey across the desert without a notable confirmation that they were on the right path. When they finally reached the palace, there was confusion and little knowledge about the prophecied King of the Jews they sought. Even if the Christ child would be born in Bethlehem, as they had just learned from the king's advisers, there was no way to know which house in town to go or whether he was still in Bethlehem at all. Maybe this was a dead end or just a wild goose chase. Or maybe they hadn't really seen or understood the prophecied star. Wouldn't things be easier if it was right?! Maybe they would be better off turning around and going home-- or at least searching less diligently to mitigate the risk of disappointment.

Thousands of miles away in the Americas, those kinds of doubts had quickly dominated the public discussion. They had also seen the star, but some small groups immediately began to persuade the masses that they had not really seen the star or that, if they did see a star, it was not the prophesied sign of Christ's birth (3 Nephi 1:22). Most of the people did not listen at first, rejoicing in the birth of the Savior; but within a few years the people, 'began to be less and less astonished at a sign or wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen' (3 Nephi 2:1-3).

That would not be the case with the wise men, who wasted no time listening to foolish doubts or pondering potential failures. Instead they set out immediately from the palace, traveling the five-mile road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in the darkness. Somewhere along that path, 'lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him’ (Matthew 2:9-11).

As we seek the Savior in our journey through life, at Christmastime and throughout the year, we will face many of the same kinds of trials as the wise men did. The Lord will give us revelation that we will need to trust and believe absolutely even when the special feelings have long since faded. Sometimes it may seem that we've hit a dead end or that there is no possible way the Lord could keep His promises. We may question ourselves and whether God has really spoken to our minds and hearts or if He is really guiding our path. Certainly the world around us will question our devotion and mock our reliance on the revelation they ignorantly see as strange or only imagined.

We will be tempted to quit, to trust in only what we can calculate or see for ourselves, to believe that we have reached a dead end or that God has not dealt fairly with us, or to hesitate and shy away from hard things. And if we give in to those temptations, we will most often find that we are giving up on finding Christ when we are nearest to Him, giving up the miracles and blessings we have just worked so hard to make possible, and giving up our chance to worship at His feet and live in His presence.

In the story of the wise men we see a wiser path for our lives. Journeys of faith, like journeys through the desert, simply do not happen without exertion, endurance through fatigue, and determination to press forward despite our doubts and fears. But then, if we will 'press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men', the Lord will confirm our faith and guide us to our goals; He will purify our hearts and we will know Him; and we will learn for ourselves that 'whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day' (2 Nephi 31:20, Alma 36:3).

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