Condensed from my Missions Course (2008).
Why were the wise men “late” in arriving to celebrate Jesus birth?
The wise men were students of the stars who had observed a heavenly phenomenon (a star in the East) which they interpreted as a sign of the birth of the King of the Jews. So they traveled from their home in Persia to Jerusalem in search of the babe, sleeping by day and traveling by night, the better to follow the bright star that led them.
Their query “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” so unsettled King Herod that he vowed to eliminate this pretender to the throne. He inquired of the chief priests and scribes where Christ was to be born and they quoted the prophecy that identified Bethlehem. Next he had to determine how old the child was, and to do this he asked the wise men how long it had been since they had first seen the star.
Finally he had to find out where this babe was, so Herod persuaded the wise men to bring him a report so that he too could “worship” the new king. The star that had guided them into Jerusalem but disappeared from the night sky now reappeared to lead the wise men and stood over where the young child was. Notice that Jesus was no longer a babe but a child, and neither was he any longer in a manger. The bible narrative says that the wise men came into the house where the child and his mother were. Jesus’ parents had moved into a house from the animal stall where Jesus had been born.
This new address was what Herod eagerly desired from the wise men’s reports he had prevailed upon them to give him. But God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to Herod and so they returned to their country another way.
Traveling from a far-off country took over a year and so the wise men in our timeline appear to be late as our understanding goes. They don’t seem to historically and accurately belong in a crèche or nativity tableau. But no one is really ever late to come to Jesus. So the wise men rejoiced greatly to have been able to see the child Jesus and they went home rejoicing. Their interpretation of the stars, very likely a divine gift with some insight from a prophet named Balaam, had led them on a joyous journey to worship.
Numbers 24:17; Micah 5:2; and Matthew 2:1-12.
Blessed weekend to all!