A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 144: Magi

Read Matthew 2:1-12

“I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”  (Genesis 12:3, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

TheMagiPart 144: Magi. Last year, the church I currently serve participated in a town event which was trying to promote Small Business Saturday. While my church was supportive of being involved in it, and many of our members were there singing Christmas carols (mostly Christian carols, mind you) there was some buzz from others who thought that was a bad idea because the theme of the event was Harry Potter, and the church should not be “promoting sorcery and witchcraft”. Of course, Harry Potter is a fantasy fiction, just like The Chronicles of Narnia (e.g. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, but from the viewpoint of some people, there was “evil” at work behind the fiction.

During Advent, I raised the issue in one of the sermons I preached, regarding the Magi. In that message I said, “I find it ironic that some Christians get up in arms over Harry Potter because it is a story about wizards, sorcerers, witches, magicians and astrologers; yet, their hearts get ‘strangely warmed’ when hearing the story of wizards, sorcerers, witches, magicians, and astrologers coming to visit baby Jesus in a manger.”

Okay, so I stretched it slightly using the words “wizards, witches, sorcerers and magicians,” but I did so to make a powerful point” of which I’ll explain in a little bit. Still, the principal behind the words above is not scandalous or heretical; rather, it is the truth. In the account of the Magi coming to visit Jesus, we must realize several things in order to truly grasp the power of the account. Let me list those things off for you:

  1. The Magi were not kings, and we do not know how many of them there were. We often think there were only three because of the gifts that they brought; however, there is no evidence whatsoever that there were only three.
  2. The word magi is plural of the Latin word magus, and the Greek word magos, which was derived from the Old Persian word magâunô, which was the priestly caste that Zoroaster was born into. Also, magi is the root of the English word magic.
  3. The Magi were, thus, Zoroastrian priests who were known for their practice of astrology (reading the stars), as well as divination, both of which are forbidden practices in Judaism.
  4. The Magi would not have been sorcerers or magicians, properly speaking, because sorcery was forbidden in Zoroastrianism, and they viewed astrology and divination as a science. Still, for the Jews, astrology and divination are linked to sorcery in Judaism. Jews were supposed to steer clear of such practices and place their faith in God, not in their own ability to see the future.

What we have in Matthew’s account is amazing, then! These Gentiles/pagans from Persia traveled from the East, following the stars and divining that a great King had been born in Bethlehem. Matthew does not record this event as scandalous, though others would have read scandal into it, but as something joyous!

This story reveals two great things about God! First, God can and does work through anyone! Pagan or otherwise, Jew or Gentile, God can work through anything and anyone to bring people to Christ…to Salvation. Second, the Magi showing up that day (Jesus could have been as old as 2 years by the time they arrived) gave us a divine epiphany: God’s salvation plan does not just include one group of “special” people, but that the WHOLE world was to be blessed with Salvation through the Christ, just as God promised Abraham!

To come full circle, the point I was making in the sermon was that if God can work through divination and astrology to lead the Magi to Christ, surely God can work through fictitious novels such as Harry Potter. These things only have as much power as we put in them. God, ultimately, is the only true source of power and we should trust that God is working through us in the world. That is why I choose to participate in community events, even if I don’t agree with everything going on at them. God is the one in control, not me. What’s more, we’ll witness far more to God’s LOVE by being present in community, rather than protesting in opposition to it.

Jesus met people where they were, he did not make people conform to him before engaging with them. We ought to learn to do the same.

Lord, help me to operate from faith instead of fear. Amen.

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