After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem… On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.
Matthew 2:1, 11 NIV
It’s a New Year, 2016. For many, the turning of the calendar marks the end of the Christmas season. But for Christians, the celebration of the appearing of God in human form in Jesus Christ continues on January 6th, Epiphany, when we remember the arrival of the Magi – Gentiles, outsiders, who came and bowed down to Jesus Christ. This is a moment worth celebrating and reflecting upon!
In the arrival of these worshippers from the East we see a fulfilment of God’s great promises to Israel. To Abraham the great promise had been given that through his offspring all nations on earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). The Psalmist speaks of a ruler to come, to whom all kings bow down and whom all nations serve (Psalm 72:11). God spoke through the prophet Isaiah of a moment when, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). The arrival of the Magi is a moment of fulfilment: Jesus is Abraham’s offspring through whom all nations will be blessed, Jesus is the promised ruler before whom all kings will bow (just as the Magi did), and Jesus is the one who brings light to the nations and to the kings of earth.
The Church has always recognised the arrival of the Magi as the coming of salvation to the Gentiles. It is a sign and foretaste of God’s great generosity to those outside the people of Israel through Christ. As we begin 2016, God’s concern for the outsider seems of particular relevance as we look back on a year dominated by the migrant crisis. In the midst of political and public consensus which seems to quickly shift from one position to the next, it is good to begin the year remembering God’s concern for every human life. Each human bears the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and is precious to God. God sent Christ because of his love for the whole world (John 3:16). Churches and Christian organisations were, as ever, at the forefront of welcoming outsiders displaced by war and conflict, as the first new Syrian refugees began to arrive in Glasgow during November.
But alongside these international outsiders whom we are welcoming among us, the Christmas season is also one in which our churches are filled with people who are outsiders in different way: the many millions in our nation who do not have faith in Jesus Christ. May it be that, this Christmas, as we have welcomed family, friends and neighbours among us who do not share our faith, something of the wonder and power of the Gospel has broken into their lives.
Here at the Scottish Bible Society we reflect again upon the power of God’s Word to change lives as we enter a new year. Two resources particularly aimed at “outsiders” are at the forefront of our efforts at the turn of the year. The first is ‘On The Road‘; a book produced by the French Bible Society that contains a series of readings from the Bible for migrants. Available in numerous languages, this publication has proved astonishingly popular across Europe, and is now having an impact here in Scotland. The second resource is ‘God’s Gift‘, the special Christmas edition Luke’s gospel. Once again we have been thrilled by the response of Scottish churches in ordering these books to give away at Christmas. Our prayer is that these gospels would be used and read, not just at Christmas, but at the beginning and throughout the year and that many in our nation would come to faith in Jesus Christ through the reading of God’s Word.
May we, as God’s Church in Scotland, continue to fulfil God’s outward looking purposes and reflect God’s generous welcome to all those who feel like outsiders in 2016. And may we pray with renewed fervour this Epiphany that many from this nation and around the world would this year discover Christ and bow before him, just as the Magi did, even as we look forward to the day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).
Head of Bible Engagement