January 7, 2008
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him."
Have you ever felt like an outsider? I have. If you saw me typing at my desk now, you’d see a conservative-looking, young woman. But rewind to high school, and you’d see an awkward, lonely kid wearing super baggy, ripped-to-shreds jeans. I actually skipped my junior year to get out as quickly as possible. College was a turning point, and I will never regret my decision to graduate high school early.
If you’ve experienced the pang of being the odd one out, you hold a special place in the heart of God. This past Sunday, many churches celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany. The Epiphany marks the arrival of the wise men after a lengthy journey guided by the star of Bethlehem.
As popular as these guys are in religious art, we don’t know much about the Magi. There is no concrete evidence they were kings, no exact number of how many followed the star, no records of their countries of origin, and no official date of their arrival. Historical research indicates they were most likely members of a priestly caste from Persia who practiced a religion called Zoroastrianism.
So why set aside a special feast day to celebrate the arrival of some guys we don’t know much about? Precisely because they were mysterious outsiders. Not only did their arrival catch King Herod by surprise and set into motion a series of prophetic events, but centuries later we see the wise men represented God’s plan to save all who seek Him, regardless of their backgrounds.
Of course, God’s saving plan for the Gentiles didn’t go over well with everyone at first. Many of Jesus’ early followers struggled with – even protested – this idea that Christ’s kingdom would include outsiders.
All this forces me to slow down and think. Who are the outsiders today? And how do I treat them? Do I love everyone as God does? Do I give people the benefit of the doubt and respect everybody as God’s unique creations? Do I entrust that God is working within others even if their lives don’t take conventional paths?
Having had my own taste of being on the outside looking in, you would think I readily embrace all who come my way. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. At church, I might see someone dressed unconventionally and make assumptions. Or perhaps I observe a peer that struggles to fit into my social group and put forth little effort to make them feel more accepted. I’ve failed outside of church, too. I’m ashamed to admit that I have, at times, caught myself embracing a judgmental “us vs. them” mentality when interacting with those who don’t practice the Christian faith.
Imagine: What if Joseph and Mary had shut the doors on the Magi? I mean, these guys must have been a strange and unexpected sight to this young, Jewish couple when they arrived. What if they had been scandalized by their arrival, skeptical about their exotic gifts, and informed them they had no business paying homage to their son? Thankfully, they put their trust in God’s unfolding plan, and welcomed them. But I’m learning that when I turn my back on those who don’t fit into whatever mental requirements I’ve cooked up, I fail to love, and effectively turn my back on God’s will.
Intersecting Faith & Life: One of my New Year’s resolutions is to take time to get to know people I might normally write off. Can you identify someone in your church or your life that in some way stands on “the outside?” Make an effort to get to know them a little better this week. You may be surprised at the blessings that flow from this new relationship.