1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.” [Micah 5:2]
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Who were these wise men (Greek magoi) who came from the East seeking the “King of the Jews” who had been born? They weren’t “kings” (the carol notwithstanding), and the text never said how many there were. It seems most likely that they were Persian (“from the east”). If so, they may well have been Zoroastrian students of the stars. It wasn’t reports of wealth that drew them, unlike some visitors to Israel in earlier times (cf. 1 Kings 10:1-9). They followed an unexpected star with the alluring hope of a new King offering the world a fresh start.
Lord of the whole world, you didn’t limit the reach of heaven’s joy at Jesus’ birth to only people with the “correct” theology. Thank you for caring enough to reach far beyond any one group of people to share that joy. Amen.
I went to college at Weber State University in Utah, nestled at the foot of the Wasatch Mountain Range and the gateway to great skiing. Technically I wasn’t supposed to be doing any skiing, since my volleyball coach was sure we would all break our legs and have to sit out a year. But how can you live in Utah and not enjoy the wonderful powder beckoning you to hit the slopes? It’s part of what makes Utah so special.
Another unique thing about Utah is the high percentage of people who practice the Mormon religion. As someone who grew up in a Christian home in southern California, I wasn’t very familiar with the Latter-Day Saints before moving to Utah. To say that my immersion into that culture was a little shock would be an understatement. Every player on my team was Mormon. At first, they were friendly and put up with my questions about what they believed, but as weeks turned to months and they realized I wasn’t looking to convert, the reception was a little less warm.
I remember one weekend when we were on the road for a tournament and found ourselves in a hotel on Sunday morning. The team decided to hold their own church service, but as the sole non-Mormon I wasn’t invited. It hurt, and as I sat alone in my hotel room I had to reflect on my own attitude. Had my questions to them seemed judgmental? Were they divisive?
It didn’t feel good to be left out simply because I didn’t share in their religion. The more I had studied the Mormon faith the more I had discovered that there were many things we didn’t agree on, but there was indeed some common ground we shared. This was brought home to me clearly on another road trip a few weeks later.
I was assigned to room with one of my teammates whose father was battling stage four lung cancer. The prognosis wasn’t good, and she had just received a call from her mother letting her know that he had been rejected for yet another trial. As she got off the phone I watched her sit on the edge of her bed and break down in tears. As I wrapped my arms around her and cried with her, I realized that we had even more in common. We all grieve at the suffering of our loved ones and yearn to make sense of it. We all cry out to God for help and comfort in time of need.
I asked if I could pray for her and we spent the next thirty minutes in prayer with tears running down our cheeks. That night turned into a pivotal moment with my teammates. Slowly but surely, we started to break down the religious walls between us. The next season when we found ourselves on the road on a Sunday everyone was invited to join in “hotel church.” I found myself in more and more conversations about what I believed as a Christian, and listened as they explained what they believed with the understanding that no one was looking to convert. Those relationships and conversations both strengthened and grew my own faith, and I am so grateful for each one.
They taught me something else, too. Staying in my own little faith bubble community where everyone agrees with me never taught me nearly as much about my own faith as having to explain it to someone who doesn’t agree with me. My years in Utah expanded my world view and made my faith richer for it.
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