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Who followed a star to find God? Well, there were not three of them. All St Matthew’s Gospel says is that they brought three sorts of gifts - which has led artists to represent them being carried by three men. And they were not Kings. They are called Magi - priests from what today is Iran who acted as court astrologers. Magi appear in two other stories at this time. One comes later in the Bible. Paul was travelling through Cyprus and met the Proconsul there, a man called Sergius Paulus. Sergius’ retinue doesn’t include a Chaplain or a jester but does include a Magos, who is called Elymas. Elymas tells Sergius just what a bad idea Christianity is and tries to persuade him not to listen to Paul. The other story comes more than once in other contemporary writing. In AD 66 (two years after the Great Fire of Rome and the persecution of Christians which followed) a Magos called Tiridates is among those who come to worship Nero as a god. So, just imagine that you are a Christian in Rome in about AD 70, keeping your head down to avoid persecution, and you receive a new book. It is the first time you have had a book which tells the full story of Jesus.

You find that it begins by telling you about Jesus’ ancestry and his birth; Jesus is both of human descent and comes from God. You look to see what the very first story will be. It tells you that Magi came to worship Jesus and lay gifts at his feet. It is hard to think of a story which would surprise you more. These Magi - the ones who try to present Christian preaching as awful and who honour the worst persecutor of Christians as God-like - they are the first to recognise that Jesus has been sent by God. I’ve tried to think what the modern equivalent would be and the best I could come up with would be being told today that the first three worshippers were an evolutionary biologist, a psychic, and a member of Al’ Qaeda. If you ask ‘Who followed a star to go where they hoped that God might be found?’ the best answer might be ‘the people who you would least expect to do so’. And, if that was the best answer then, it might be the best answer now as well. Perhaps the best answer today might be ‘at least a few million, and that is just in England at Midnight Service tonight’.

Who Followed the Star?

Part of the sermon preached by Canon Peter Mullins
at the Midnight Communion at St George’s and St Nicolas’ in 2008