“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” —Luke 2:20

“And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” —Matthew 2:12

This year as I read and prayed through the Christmas story again and again, one dimension that I’d never noticed before caught my attention. The second chapters of both Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels reveal a theme of post-Christmas returning. After their respective epiphanies, we read that both the Magi and the shepherds returned. Returned to what? They returned to their vocations and their normal, everyday lives.

How strange would that have been? The shepherds had seen the glories of heaven, heard the songs of angels, and been led to the manger of the Christ child. The Magi had experienced their own awe-inspiring, star-guided vision leading them to the new King. And now both groups find themselves returning to the lives they once knew. But they couldn’t have returned the same. When you encounter the Christ child, there is no going back. You return, but you return “by another route.”

The Difficulty of Returning

This year I wondered something I’d never wondered before: Did the prospect of returning appeal to either the shepherds or the Magi? Did they even want to return? The events of Christmas were moments of glory that, in some ways, rivalled Jesus’ transfiguration, and we know how Peter responded to that experience—“let’s stay here forever!” I would understand if either the shepherds or the Magi had resisted returning, even if only within ...

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