Advent Reflections Day 23: Christmas for those of all religions and none

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2.1-2

There is an element of mystery that surrounds the Magi from the east. We have very little biographical detail about them. We don’t even know that there were three of them – we just know that they brought three gifts to Jesus.

What we do know is that they probably came from modern day Iraq or Iran. They weren’t Jews. Their religion certainly wasn’t Jewish, in fact their religion was probably Zoroastrianism and it was more akin to astrology than conventional religion. And, judging by their gifts, they must have been quite well to do.

For most Jews of the time, the idea that pagan dignitaries would play such a prominent role in birth stories about the Messiah might have seemed rather strange. When you consider that the only mention of the Jewish religious establishment is rather negative, it raises even more questions.

Once again, the story of the kings is another aspect of the nativity that reveals something of God’s heart. It shows us that God is not locked into any particular religious system – even those which have their roots in divine revelation. His ability to work in the hearts of human beings is not restricted by their religious background.

Secondly, it reminds us that God’s love is for the whole world. He is not a British God. Or a European God. Or an American God. And even though the developing world is where Christianity is currently most vibrant, God is not Asian or Latin American or African.

Thirdly, God meets people where they are. He speaks to them in language they understand. The Magi were stargazers. Observing the stars was their life’s work. Little wonder that God spoke to them through a star to lead them to Jesus.

Finally, God’s aim was to bring them to His Son. Spiritual experience on its own is never enough. Angels filling the skies weren’t enough for the shepherds. A magnificent star was not enough for the Magi. The revelation was incomplete until they had met with Jesus.

God still meets people where they are today. He is not bound by the four walls of what we call church. He is speaking to people in all sorts of ways through all sorts of experiences. However, their experience is lacking and inadequate until they meet with Jesus. It is only when they meet Jesus that they can really understand God’s heart of love and His magnificent purpose for their lives.

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