Third Sunday of Advent: From the East
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
—Matthew 2:1-12 (Read Matthew 2)
It was a beautiful spring day, my day off, and I was sitting outside at my favorite coffee shop, looking forward to some unhurried time to read. Soon, though, a slender man with dark hair came up to me and introduced himself.
“My name is Yosef,* and I heard you preach yesterday. It was my first time in church. Can I talk with you about your sermon?”
I invited Yosef to sit down. And so began a nearly four-hour conversation and an incredible friendship.
I asked Yosef how he’d ended up at our church. He told me of his life growing up in a Muslim family and Muslim culture in the country of Jordan. After arriving in the United States for college, he stayed to pursue a PhD, and he had worked in our community for several years.
Unbeknownst to his family, Yosef had abandoned his Muslim faith and had become agnostic. Yet he’d come to know a number of Christians who worked at the coffee shop where we were talking. And he’d come to know several Christians who were outstanding scholars at the university.
As his story unfolded, I was amazed at how God had been leading this kind, brilliant neighbor. Yosef had never been interested in Christianity, but something intrigued him about Christians. Those he knew personally didn’t live up to the judgmental stereotypes he was familiar with. Many offered to pray for him. And those who were in academia seemed to be able to hold on to a deep faith and rigorous scholarship.
I realized later how much Yosef reminded me of the wise men in Matthew 2.
Matthew 2:1-2: Now after 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 saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Straight away, in the first verse, we are asked to pay close attention. The Gospel writers and Jesus commonly use this word, behold. It is a strong word, emphasizing the importance of paying close attention in order to consider something significant.
In the first few chapters of Matthew, we are asked to behold angels (1:20; 2:13, 19), behold a virgin conceiving a baby (1:23), behold a star acting as GPS navigation (2:9), behold the Spirit of God descending and the voice of God speaking (3:16-17).
In the midst of these unfathomable events, there is one other occurrence Matthew says we should also pay close attention to:
People from far away went on a journey. Behold!
This is astounding. While these wise men from very far away come to worship Jesus, people just five miles away in Jerusalem don’t worship him at all.
Yosef didn’t track stars in the sky like the wise men. Yet he was given guiding lights.
In his quest for truth, he had begun to read the non-scientific works of some of his favorite scientists and philosophers, wanting to understand how Christians with strong faith could still be good scientists.
He realized that Isaac Newton was a Christian, and that he’d actually written more about faith than about science. Galileo, Johannes Kepler, Francis Collins, and Sir Francis Bacon were all believers who, fueled by their Christian faith, had pursued science and made brilliant discoveries—showing that the sun was the center of the galaxy, charting the motion of planets, and mapping the human genome. One of them, Bacon, invented the scientific method.
As Yosef started to read the genius French mathematician, physicist, and inventor, Blaise Pascal’s Penseés, he became convicted that he needed to not only read the work of Christians, but the accounts of the One whom Christians worshipped.
Yosef began reading a King James Bible given to him by a friend, and as he read, he began to wonder:
“Does something happen when I not only read the Word of God, but hear the Word of God with other people who believe this Word of God?”
That next Sunday, Yosef came to church with a brilliant PhD mathematician friend. He heard a sermon about the resurrection and personal renewal, and what Yosef found in the Word of God was that all along, God had been looking for him.
God, as with the wise men, used guiding lights in the sciences to lead Yosef to see Him.
A few days later, sitting at a coffee shop table, Yosef told me his story.
He told me that, as he’d read Christian scientists and then the Bible, talked with Christian friends, and looked at his own life, he had started to feel empty. He realized that all he’d attained wasn’t satisfying. He was longing for hope, for a life-changing power that could transform him, give him peace, and fill the vacuum in his heart that no created thing could fill.
That day, at the end of our conversation, I looked at Yosef and said, “I think you and I are brothers now.”
He smiled and said, “Yes! I really believe we are!”
And as we prayed, I marveled: after a long journey for Yosef, God had brought a far-off one near.
Behold! Another “wise man from the East” had come to worship Jesus with great joy.
*The name has been changed to protect the identity of this individual.
Rick Whitlock is a CCO campus minister, reaching out to students at Purdue University.