I have been fascinated by the story of the Three Kings (or Three Wisemen, or Three Magi, etc. etc. etc.) since childhood. Something about the idea of traveling so far to see the Baby Jesus seemed both strange and wonderful. I was no stranger to travel as a kid. We drove many hours to see grandparents several times a year (with an occasional camping adventure tacked on to make it feel like “vacation”). Even as a young adult, future-husband Glenn and I would regularly make the 30 hour, three day trip in our junky minivan from home to college and back.

So it wasn’t the travel that fascinated me. It was the why.

I imagined days of riding on camels and pitching Hollywood inspired cloth tents in the desert as the Kings worked their way to Bethlehem. Why?

I imagined bathroom breaks behind bushes and meals of baked rat and sullen servants who muttered “are we there yet?” behind the Kings’ backs. After they betrayed Herod, I imagined cloak and dagger treks at night to avoid Herod’s scouts who sought to painfully extract the location of the child from them. Why? Why? And Why?

Even when I learned that the three Kings were most likely astronomers or mystics seeking meaning in configurations of the stars instead of political leaders, I still wondered why? Why go see the child? Wasn’t just solving the puzzle about him enough?

The Kings never appear again in the Jesus story. They seem to appear from nowhere just to show us that Baby Jesus is special. Indeed, a King himself, though not the kind of King the world had ever seen before. We are never quite clued in to the motives of the traveling Magi which, as a reader invested in the story, is perfectly unsatisfying!

Only after many more years of travel, both literally and spiritually, do I think I now glimpse an answer: The Kings were seeking. That’s it. They traveled not because they knew, but because they didn’t.

All of my life’s best journeys began with uncertainty. When Glenn and I as newlyweds loaded up our dog in that same junky minivan and pointed it to California, we had a job but no place to live. Seven years later, when we loaded two cats, a dog, and a four month old baby onto an airplane in the middle of winter to move to Kansas City, we had a house and some savings but no job. Just a business plan sketched out on sticky notes.

In Advent, we wait for the Christ Child. But the story of the Magi teaches us that we also must seek him. Why? Because only by seeking – actively, riskily, joyfully, and frighteningly – will we find what we’re truly looking for and what we truly need.

What are you seeking this Advent? May your journey be risky, and your destination be Christ.