Every so often a commuting college student will realize his final (“Don Rags” here) is in twenty minutes. The difficulty is that he is one hour away and traffic is bad. He is still not late, but he surely will miss the final nobody should miss. This is an odd position: failing before failure.
Sometimes to be on time for Christmas (or even Epiphany) we have to start early. So it was with the magi in a distant land who would come not on Christmas Day, but while the baby was in Bethlehem. All of history had led up to a window when you could see the miracle of the Incarnation. For ages it was much time too early to go to David’s Royal City. There was time.
And then one day there was not.
If you saw the Star in the East, you had better go, because in Western lands Christmas was coming and if you missed the first one, there would never be a make up. Timing was not everything, but a good bit and of course the magi were wise men so they got there just in time.
To do what?
They did not just see history. They brought gifts that would be necessary when the Holy Family had to flee a tyrannical government and live in exile in Egypt. The magi brought the means to help the exiles survive, just in time. They even got the location wrong at first, Jerusalem (the other City of David), and still had time to make it: wise men indeed.
We can be ready to act, but in the wrong place to do so! Having your gold, frankincense, and myrrh is good, but being in the East makes the gift useless.
I have missed more than one important meeting by failing to build in the commute or preparing for a commute that was worse than I imagined. This is unwise. In my spiritual life, forgetting that getting ready for a test takes time is even worse. The moment comes and I am not ready, because I have not gotten ready by being in the right spiritual space. I have the gifts, the potential to help, but I am not there.
God wants us to learn, to grow up, to get ready for the City of God, and so often we miss what could have been. Spiritual disciplines are like any other discipline: most take time, practice, and patience. The Holy Spirit falls and we get the gift, but then the Spirit works with our spirit to make that gift our own. We exercise the gifts God has given us. We do what God has called us to do, get to the place where we could do it, then the moment comes and we are ready.
When the term begins the test feels far away, now exam week is here. Studying will help, but only so much. When I was a boy, death felt far away, now not so much. Death comes to us, but we can be found in a good place when death comes. That is better.
This is one necessary preparation, one that comes to everyone, but there is more.
There are more mundane divine appointments: moments when a word of wisdom could help a friend, when virtue is tested. I have failed those tests at times (God forgive me) by being in the wrong place at the key time. By God’s grace, as I have gotten older, building in the commuting time, getting to the place where I can see what is there to be seen, has gotten easier. I am learning.
God helping me, there is still time time to head towards Bethlehem so that when that divine moment comes to see Jesus, I will be there. Let’s not miss Christmas (or Epiphany) by failing to get to the right place.
God help me.
The final exam came for the magi and they were wise. May I be like them.