Yesterday’s sermon on the three magi has quite a few fascinating details. They of course teach us about the true nature of worship, or bowing down in reverence towards God. There’s also a fiasco with king Herod. The magi return another way after being warned in a dream of Herod’s plot. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus also have to flee Bethlehem as refugees, traveling to Egypt for safety, too.
One major part of this story has to do with the implicit details surrounding the magi themselves. We don’t find out much about their background in scripture. We have to fill in the gaps through our own deduction and study, and a lot of information is up in the air. As I mentioned yesterday, church tradition is all over the place in regards to where they actually came from or who they were. Some argue they were astrologers, studying star movements in the night sky. Others believe they were philosophers of sorts—literal “wise” people studying spirituality! Some posit that they were literal kings and came from regions such as modern day Saudi Arabia, Iran, or even as far as India.
Despite historical uncertainty, I think we are safe to assume that these folks had minimal exposure to Judaism. They were outsiders who followed some miraculous sign in the night sky for many miles for this long journey. I would argue the probably had little familiarity with the messianic prophecies of Isaiah, too! So if you ask me, it is absolutely incredible that they “discovered” the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ. They can serve as a reminder for us today that God’s revelation is quite literally all around us.
Sometimes well-intentioned Christians struggle with limiting God to a church service on Sunday. As a pastor, of course I believe attending church is important. But faith should never be limited to one hour out of the week, or even restricted to a particular building. If we truly take the story of the magi seriously, then we must recognize that God reveals Godself throughout all creation. Dreams might point someone to Christ. A sunset can trigger a sense of awe towards the creator. Witnessing a child being born can spur someone to deeper spiritual understanding. God can use a lot of things to bring about change in our hearts.
I recall a story from a missionary I heard speak in college. He was traveling in rural India near the border with Pakistan. Their motorbike had broken down and were in need of help. As they were pushing the bike towards the next village, they met a man running towards them, who immediately offered to fix the bike and give them a place to stay. They came to find out the man had a dream the night before where a voice told him he would receive a couple of visitors pushing a broken down motorbike. The voice told the man to listen to what the visitors had to say. Many in the village became Christians during the missionary’s stay. These people had absolutely no exposure to a bible or a church, yet experienced the great love of God, all because of a seemingly random dream.
There’s another touching story I heard from another missionary visiting an isolated group of people. After learning the language and culture for several months, he felt comfortable discussing matters of faith with those he was serving. Some of the elders taught him about their religious practices and customs, talking about how they believed in the “God of Light.” This God of Light was incredibly powerful. Light sought to rescue people from death and darkness. He offered spiritual protection and guidance. He would lead his followers to be more loving to their neighbors. The missionary came to find out that he didn’t actually have to “bring” God to the remote tribe… Christ was already there! They only knew him by a different name.
I also recall reading testimonies from Richard Twiss, an evangelist from the Lakota Tribe in South Dakota. In his work with fellow indigenous peoples, he was able to relate the message of the gospel to Native American lore. Teachings about the “Great Spirit” or “Great Mystery” sound remarkably similar to God—a being that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and forever loving. If you ask me, I would say that someone like Twiss realized that God can reveal truth to all peoples, regardless of language, location, or time period.
And finally, you might remember a story I’ve used a couple of times about Helen Keller and her devoted teacher, Anne Sullivan. When young Helen inquired about matters of faith and was taught by Anne and a minister about who God was, her response was, ”I always knew He was there, but I didn’t know His name!”
The three magi teach us that God is on the move all over the world. God is not limited to Christian radio, Sunday morning worship services, or reading a devotional book. Sure, we can experience God’s presence through those things, but we should never limit the movement of the Holy Spirit. God can meet us wherever we are. Our job as Christians is to help other people notice that divine revelation.