Friday, January 21, 2011

Speaking Their Language

Okay so Christmas has past, but there is this thing that keeps running through my head. It is one of the absolute coolest parts of the Christmas story, apart from God being born as a baby. Nothing trumps that, but this is pretty amazing, too.

I think I like it because I love the Bible stories about the outsiders, the people who didn’t quite belong or fit, but were included anyway. The Bible is full of them. I guess I really don’t see it as that big of a deal when someone who knows the rules does the right thing, but when someone who has never been taught is just so overcome by the splendor and holiness of our God that they instinctively do the right thing, it just blows me away. It reminds me of how far God is willing to go to reach all who have a heart to respond.

Maybe this is why my favorite people on the scene, (although technically, they arrived way past fashionably late, make that two to three years late), were the Magi. The Bible doesn’t have a whole lot to tell us about who they were, what their background and history was, and so we have built up a lot of myths and legends about their journey. We have given them names, that may or may not have been theirs, we have given them different and distinct ethnicities so they can serve as representatives for the rest of the world. (Read that Gentiles).

But as usual, the truth is so much stranger than fiction. Magi was the official title of the priests of a Babylonian god named Mithras. In their official capacity they observed the stars, foretelling the future, searching for omens, and looking for signs. Stars were the writings of the gods, revealing to man all that the gods desired for him to know, and it was a language they knew well.

Here’s the first thing that amazes me, God got their attention and he did it using their language, their area of expertise. He did not require that they learn some new culture or code of conduct before he would deign to speak to them. It’s as if he said, “Okay, you can read the stars. Allow me to write it in the medium you know.”

It makes me wonder how many times we Christians like to complicate the message for those foreign to our ways. Why does it seem so hard for us to follow God’s example and speak the language of the people we are trying to communicate with? It’s time that we recognize that God desires to reach all humanity, not just the ones who talk, look, and act like us. We need to take the time to learn how to speak their language and quit expecting them to learn ours.

The second thing that amazes me is that God accepted their gifts, even honoring them by mentioning them by name in his Word. Now, there has been a lot written about the nature of these gifts, how they were used by kings and in anointing royal bodies, but the Bible never clarifies why these particular gifts were given and most of our Christian writings are just speculation. Maybe it is our attempt to Christianize these heathen priests.

I think it honors them far more to understand the gifts in light of the Magi’s culture. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were gifts reserved for their god. It was the way they understood how to honor a deity, and just as God spoke their language to communicate with them, they now speak their language to communicate with him.

And it’s okay. It’s what they have to give to him, the highest honor they can bestow, and God says it’s enough.

Perhaps as Christians we need to value the language of foreign people a little more. Perhaps we need to be more sensitive when someone from outside our culture responds to God, and be less judgmental when it fails to meet what we deem to be correct. Maybe we need to stop placing our interpretations on their actions and let them speak for themselves. God was okay with the sincere gift of foreign men, and I can’t help but feel he has the same response to all who seek him with sincerity.

Perhaps it is time we took the value off the form and placed it on the intent of the heart, and let God decide whether it is a good and acceptable gift.


OK Katrina said...

This is good. Really good!

Emily said...

High praise coming from you!

In case, anyone doesn't know OK Katrina is the Blog Editor,in charge of not just my grammatical mistakes, but even assuring that I don't jump the rails too much in my fervor! And she can be tough!

We should all have friends like her.

OK Katrina said...

Aw thanks, Em!

Dirty Butter said...

Interesting take on the story of the Magi. Using native missionaries taught by those from the USA is the normal way that Southern Baptist International Mission work is done now. It makes so much more sense than bringing someone in who has to have an interpreter!

I follow you on ExposeYourBlog.

Emily said...

Dirty Butter, love the name and glad you joined the conversation. It's encouraging to know that great concepts are being used and proving successful.