Baylor University’s seminary has a Lenten series on the Gospel of Matthew, with contributions with staff, faculty and students. Today’s entry, from Brianna Childs, focuses on Matt. 2:1-12
“When I am walloped by Christian condescension toward those who are not Christian, I remember how many religious strangers played lead roles in Jesus’s life: the Canaanite woman who expanded his sense of agency, the Samaritan leper who showed him what true gratitude looked like, the Roman centurion in whom he saw more faith than he had ever seen in one of his own tribe… This is one of the reasons why I remain a devoted student of the Bible: because what it says is so often not what I have been taught it says, or what I think it says, or what I want it to say. Scripture has its own voice—sometimes more terrible than wonderful—but it has never failed to reward my close attention, either with a fresh hearing or with the loud slamming of a door that tells me to come back later.”
-Barbara Brown Taylor, Holy Envy
This book led me to look with fresh eyes upon this passage about the wise people who visit Jesus after his birth. These are people whom we gladly include in our Advent season every year and in almost every Nativity scene. We even have a Christmas song all about them. Ironically, however, I have never fully considered what it means to include people of a different faith and background in this story. These are more of those “religious strangers” who played a vital role in Jesus’s life, proclaiming the international importance of his birth. It is also through these religious strangers that we see how unlimited God is in ways to communicate. God can use the stars to speak and wants to use even those we have deemed as the “other” to proclaim the importance of the life of the Christ child.
In Jesus’s life, and even leading up to his death, we learn how much he likes to surprise us. The God of all came to be born as a baby—the most vulnerable creature. The God of all went to death on a cross—the most humiliating sentence. In all of the moments in between his birth and death, Jesus kept inviting the people around him to embrace the paradox. Jesus still invites us to do that because he never stops drawing all people to himself. When we have written off the religious stranger as lost, Jesus might have been speaking to them and using them for good all along.
As we move through this Lenten season, I hope that we will have eyes to see how God always has and always will act through those we have deemed as “other.” I hope we will have ears to hear how God keeps speaking through those we least expect to speak truth. I hope we will have arms that are open to welcome those who seem the most different than us. And I hope we will have lives that proclaim the beauty of the imago Dei in every one of us.
Creator God, expand our minds and our hearts so that we might align with your paradoxical kingdom, and may we take joy in the least expected like you do. Amen.