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Muslims Praying the Rosary

Epiphany - 3rd January 1999
God is God of all

During the war in the Gulf, a school teacher in Glasgow told her pupils that she would be organising a prayer session for peace.  She explained that attendance at this prayer session would be voluntary since it would take place during the morning break.  As most of her pupils were Muslim rather than Christian she expected only a handful of children to come to pray.  In fact, nearly the whole class turned up – but what was really striking was that all the Muslim children came carrying rosaries and asked if they could say the rosary for peace, complete with Hail Marys.

Even though there is a big difference between Christianity and Islam, Muslims hold Jesus and Mary in high regard and on this occasion what drew the two groups of children together in prayer was the desire for peace.  And what drew the non-Jewish wise men to Bethlehem was the desire to worship the new-born Prince of Peace.

The wise men coming to offer their gifts have now become part of the Christmas festival.  Most of us have received cards with a picture of three men on camels making their way, led by a mysterious star, to the stable at Bethlehem.  They have become part of the magic and the mystery of that first Christmas, so it's easy to forget that the visit of those wise men has a meaning for us now.  In their journey to Jesus and in their giving gifts and doing homage to him, in all of that, God is giving good news to you and me.

For those wise men were not members of the same religion, or nationality, as Jesus.  They were not Jews, they were foreigners and in those days would have been described as pagans.  So they came as representatives of the whole non-Jewish world; they journeyed to Bethlehem representing the world outside Israel; they did homage to Christ on behalf of us, who are Gentiles.

And when they came to the stable at Bethlehem those foreigners offered gifts which were valuable in their eyes and their gifts were accepted; and that is good news for us all.  Because it means that God the Father of Jesus is God for the whole world, for all its nations.  It is a sign that God accepts people of all nations.  He accepts people like us.

This is a cause for true rejoicing and celebration.  There is no suggestion that the three kings forsook their own religions or nationalities.  The feast of the Epiphany, then, can be seen not as a celebration of the conversion of the world to Christianity, but rather as a celebration that God is the God of all – Jews and Gentiles; that he will accept what we all have to offer, prayers for peace, for example, from Christian and Muslim alike….

Jesus never hid himself. A star pointed the way to his birth for the rich and clever. Angels told the poor and excluded of his birth. In his ministry he ate and drank with anybody and everybody; he taught openly in the Temple and even rebuked the soldiers who came to arrest him for doing it as if he was trying to hide from them. The Christ is open and available to all; the Christ-self within us is likewise meant to be the self we we openly live by.

- Geoff Anderson, in a 1999 Epiphany sermon, "God Is God of All," at Bewdley Parish, Worcestershire, England