They had only been following the star for a week the first time it disappeared behind thick, heavy clouds. His decision to sit and wait for the clouds to dissipate had been unpopular. They had waited three nights before the sky finally cleared and the star shone through. Though he had been adamant they wait, he was likely the most anxious of all of them to get moving again.
The third week brought bandit raids. They’d had to hire more guards that week, and then hire more when two had turned out to be thieves themselves. But they pressed on, and soon they had passed the last city for few days. That peace only lasted a week, however.
They began passing through borders shortly after. Each time, officials had eyebrows raised and hands outstretched awaiting bribes to encourage them to look the other way as an armed caravan passed through.
And everywhere they went, there were questions. Why have these Zoroastrians left their home? What important message must they have, and who is the message for? What have the stars foretold?
They’d been travelling for nearly six months when the first camel dropped. It took them three days to distribute the load evenly so as not to overburden the remaining animals. He had chosen to walk and allow his own camel to carry packs instead. They were still a few days away from the next town.
At one town, they had found all the houses empty, the stalls bare, and the streets eerily deserted. They had sent a few guards around to find anyone who may still be left, but they returned having found no one at all. They had decided to camp well outside the limits of the town that day. Several of the guards were quite superstitious, throwing nervous glances at the town in the distance and around them while they kept watch. It was quiet that evening when they broke camp, for all their nervousness.
A few weeks later, they came upon a leper community in their path. The stench was nigh unbearable, and they hastened around the camp as fast as possible. Before they broke camp later the next evening, he had discreetly sent a guard back with a bit of surplus food and one of his salves for the lepers. While it might do nothing to cure their ails, it would at least offer some small comfort.
They had been following the star for precisely one year when the argument broke out. While the journey thus far had not been completely free of altercation, this was by far the most significant disagreement. He had to literally step in the middle of a fist fight. Morale had dropped and even some of his fellow star-gazers were feeling frustrated that they had not yet reached their journey’s end. He ordered that they stay put another day and he set about encouraging the men to keep going. He did his best to spread hope and renew a sense of purpose in his colleagues. He repaired what damage he could, but he could see the journey was taking its toll on all of them.
The next few months brought much of the same as before. There were many nights that blurred into each other and days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. Before he knew it, most of a year had passed by.
They were a day or two northeast of Jerusalem when thick clouds rolled in. As before, he wanted to wait. He wanted to see where the star would take them. But others were certain the star must be taking them to Jerusalem, where else would you find a king of the Jews, they asked. He was not convinced, but a vote showed that he was the only one.
He didn’t blame them. He felt that the journey was near its end and there was anticipation and relief mixed in as they made arrangements. Three of them would go on into the city alone, leaving the caravan safely north. They would investigate and report back. If Jerusalem was indeed their final destination, it would be a simple matter to go the rest of the way to the city.
He waited nervously for the return of their scouts. Despite the nearly two full years since their departure, this wait seemed the hardest of all. A tiredness crept over him, sunk into his bones and dampened his spirits. It seemed ominous that the clouds did not part during day or night the entire time they were gone.
Several days later the three returned and told of their meeting with the King and a prophecy that the one they sought would be born in Bethlehem, which was still further south. That night, the clouds broke and the star was visible once again, shining brighter than ever. They followed it for a few more nights until at last they arrived in Bethlehem.
When they were presented to the child, he felt tears welling up inside his eyes. All the struggle, the turmoil, the raids, the miles they had travelled hit him with full force.
The relief that the mission was successful hit him harder. He had succeeded. Shamelessly, he bent his head to the ground and began to weep. The strange thing was the peace he felt emanating from the child. The boy was calm, but it was more than just a mere stillness. He soaked up that peace and comfort, felt it deep in his marrow. His faithfulness had been rewarded.
The thing about journeys is that they are long, with stretches of monotony in between peril and excitement. But, if we are faithful to the journey, keeping the goal in sight, I believe that faithfulness will be rewarded. No one ever said it would be easy.
So, this second Sunday in Advent, I honour the faithfulness of those who travelled with purpose to bring gifts to a king.
Photo Source: Sookie, Flickr