Matthew 2:1-12: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 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.”
When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
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.”
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 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.” 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. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 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. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
‘We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.’ The magi were non-Jewish seekers of God. How they came to know that the ‘king of the Jews’ was to be born and that his birth would be revealed by a distinct star ‘in the east’ is unknown. There are plenty of stories about who they were but nothing can be certain. I would like to share this, however.
It seems to me that the magi were pretty good at reading what the Celtic Christian’s called God’s ‘Big Book’ - i.e., nature. For a long time now, I (as well as several generations of Christ followers) have become pretty good at reading and studying and interpreting what was called God’s ‘Little Book’ - i.e., the Bible. But we were told that Nature, God’s Big Book, is out of bounds for understanding God. That is, since we have the Bible, we don’t need to study the Big Book any longer. Recently I have seen the errors of this. While studying Celtic Christianity, I found several references to the ancient Irish peoples understanding of Nature. And, further, how the early Christian missionaries used the Irish people’s views of Nature to talk about God expressed in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
It seems to me that it would do us some good to go back and start looking at Nature for some understandings of God that we may have missed. For example, recently I was talking with a friend that I no longer hold to the West’s understanding of ‘original sin’. In my explanation as to why I changed, I brought up the recent birth of his son. I asked him about his experience in the hospital room when they brought in his son. His whole family was there and he said that the joy and love was almost tangible. I asked at any time did he hold his son and think, ‘Yep. Here’s another enemy of God born eternally separated from God possibly destined to Hell to suffer conscious eternal torture’.
‘No’, he replied.
‘Then why do we believe this to be the case when Nature itself is screaming at us the contrary?’
So, while I understand that there are plenty of places that sin is manifest in full force (no one is disputing that), we get glimpses of God’s realm in the natural world. The diversity of God’s family - people from all different cultures, backgrounds, skin color, languages, gender - can be seen in a giant field of wild flowers on a Spring day. The way a mother gently takes care of a new born reflects God’s love for her children and all of creation.
Also, there are plenty of stories that take natural images to explain God and God’s love for all of creation. We can see these in Christ’s stories about the shepherd and the lost sheep. The words of the prophets describing God’s protection like that of a bird. The Psalms referencing the created order. The list is almost endless. While I’m sure we acknowledge these descriptions as anthropomorphism's (human images used to describe indescribable things), we stop short at seeing them deeper than that. That is, while they are used to describe God, we should look to Nature to see if we can see other attributes of God that may have gone unnoticed. I believe whole-heartily that ‘[ever] since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made’ (Romans 1.20 CEB). Just as humans have their parents DNA as part of our own own make-up, so all of creation has a spark of God’s divine nature. That is, deep within all of creation, the Light of God exists.
Maybe we can learn a thing or two from the magi. Maybe we should start looking deeper at the things ‘God made plain’ (Romans 1.19) in creation. Maybe then, we will start to see a deeper picture of God.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC