I imagine that the shepherds were average, decent people with regular lives. I think that, like many of us, they worked and played, just going about the business of daily living. I doubt they were looking for anything amazing.
And then, imagine it, one night an angel came to them. An angel! Of course they were frightened, but the angel comforted them:
“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Matt. 2:10–11)
Then more angels gathered together and praised God. And how did the shepherds respond—these men who were unprepared for such an incredible revelation? They dropped everything and ran:
“As the angels were gone away from them into heaven [they didn’t even wait until the angels had left!], the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass. …
“And they came with haste.” (Luke 2:15–16)
They were so excited to receive the gift that God had sent—to meet His Son—that they went without hesitation. And once they had seen Him, they “made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” (v. 17)
This night had changed their lives, and they wanted everyone to experience what they had felt.
The wise men, on the other hand, had already been looking for Christ and for signs of His coming. They were waiting for Him. When they came to find Him, they told Herod, “We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Matt. 2:2)
They had to travel to reach Christ. I don’t know how far, but I think they had to make quite a journey to find the babe, and I think they began their preparation for that journey long before they saw the star. They prepared for its rising, and when they saw it, they were ready. They traveled however far they needed so that they could reach the Christ child. This was not the journey of one night. This was a journey that required effort and planning and deliberation and steadfastness.
They too rejoiced when they finally found Christ: “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and … they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” (v. 11) These gifts symbolized the roles Christ would play, but I imagine they were also very precious to the wise men.
They came to Christ and set before Him the best of what they had. But maybe the best thing they could give Him had already been given: their lives, spent in watching for their Savior.
How often are we given brilliant moments of spiritual illumination, moments that beg us to act upon personal revelation that would bring us to Christ? And how often do we wait, intending to do it in just five minutes? Or tomorrow, or next week? The shepherds knew, I think—they knew that the details of living can so easily get in the way. So they did not wait; they left their tasks of the moment—tasks that were undoubtedly important—and they ran to seize the most important opportunity of their lives. They ran to meet their Christ.
And then, on the other hand, are we not also given opportunities that require time and planning, work that cannot be finished and checked off in one day? And how often do we begin these tasks with great enthusiasm but find our desire and our will tapering off? Or do we sometimes forget, after days or months, to keep a vital watch over our lives? Do we, for example, forget to seek Him and watch for Him? And when we forget, do we miss the signs that Christ has come to our lives? Do we miss Him? The wise men waited and watched; I imagine some of them spent their whole lives living in preparation to meet the Christ. They continued on, even if it sometimes seemed boring or irrelevant, even if it was hard to find hope that they would someday receive their sign. They kept looking.
So at this time of year I am reminded of the ways each had of coming unto Christ. And I hope that I, too, can come unto Christ with the enthusiasm of the shepherd and the determination of the wise man.