Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Practical ideas to shine the light during Christmas

Roland Clarke

With Christmas season almost here, I trust you are considering how to make the most of the opportunity, not only in terms of showing kindness and building relationships with unbelievers but also sharing the Good News. Below is a list of five practical suggestions. Corresponding to each one is a half-page explanation with a link pointing to a more detailed discussion.

1) Be hospitable to refugees at Christmas

2) Mary's Boy Child: a popular Christmas carol

3) How Jesus got his name and what it means

4) Star that signalled the Messiah's birth

5) God's inexpressible gift


1) Be hospitable to refugees at Christmas

The Bible plainly tells us to show hospitality to strangers/foreigners. “Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself.” (Leviticus 19:33) We also read in Deuteronomy 10:18-19 how the Lord “ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners ...” Hospitality is not just a general principle, we are specifically told in Deuteronomy 26:9-12 to include foreigners/refugees on festive occasions like thanksgiving and Christmas when we celebrate God's goodness.

Jesus reinforced this 1500 years later when he instructed us not to invite just our “friends and relatives” but to invite the marginalised. Concerning such people, he spoke not of a “luncheon” but of a “banquet” which implies a more lavish display of generosity. (Luke 14:12-14)

I know several churches who did this. Two of them were amazed to see 300-400 people attend and most of these were Muslim immigrants or refugees! Indeed, these events were so successful they sparked a series of other “hospitality” events over the next few years.

Why not consider doing something similar in your church? What about serving a special meal to refugees who may be studying English at an ESL centre near you? You will need to arrange for some volunteers to help, not just in terms of supplying and serving food, but also engaging newcomers in simple conversation. Doing this doesn't require that one be a rocket scientist, you simply need to be a good listener, a friend.

As I conclude, don't forget that you can also show hospitality on a personal level in your home. If you want to read a four page article which touches on some practical aspects of hospitality, email me and I'll send it to you.

2) Mary's Boy Child: one of my favourite Christmas carols

Mary's Boy Child, popularized by Bony M, says, “Man shall live forever more because of Christmas Day.” This beautiful idea resonates with the deepest yearning of the human heart. But what does it really mean? How did Christ make it possible for mortals to live for ever?

The first clue to help us answer this question is found in a proverb penned by Solomon 3,000 years ago, “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

God has planted the longing for eternity in our hearts. It is clear that God wants us to find this priceless treasure but we must truly seek him, “God will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory, honor and immortality that God offers.” (Romans 2:7)

Another clue is found in a prophecy foretelling that the Messiah “will bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:9) Scripture clarifies what salvation means in Isaiah 25:7-9 where it foretells that God will one day destroy death and wipe away tears. Notice how the people who see this amazing feat exclaim, “This is our God! We trusted in him and he saved us! This is the Lord in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

Isaiah speaks fittingly of salvation as a way of explaining the destruction of death. We read a similar prophecy in Revelation 21:4 where the apostle John envisioned the new heavens and the new earth. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone for ever.”

It is interesting that Jesus clashed with death and overpowered it. He predicted he would be killed and raised to life after three days, as the prophets foretold. In this way he destroyed death. He holds “the keys of death and the grave” and gives eternal life to anyone who truly believes in him. (Revelation 1:18)

When Jesus was born the angel of God instructed that he be named Yeshua, (Jesus, Isa) which literally means “The Lord is salvation.” It makes perfect sense that he should be given this name reflecting the Messianic mission – to bring God's salvation. You may also like to read, A heart for eternity which is available online here.

3) How Jesus got his name and what it means

For many people Christmas is simply a time of fun and parties. They forget Jesus is the reason for the season. For Christians Jesus is the centre of our joy. In fact, he should be the overflow of our joy. Do you remember how amazed the shepherds were at seeing the new born Messiah? As we celebrate the Saviour's birth let us rejoice like the shepherds. May we also be so full of joy that it overflows in sharing the Good News with others.

Over these last few years the world has seen unprecedented numbers of terrorist attacks by radical Muslims which have spawned higher numbers of refugees than at any time in recorded history. Many of them are Muslims, now seeking asylum in so-called Christian nations. The momentous shaking of nations that we are seeing in our day is a wake-up call challenging us to complete the unfinished task of the Great Commission which includes reaching Muslims who are the largest cluster of unreached peoples on earth.

Let's do our part by loving our Muslim neighbors and sharing the Gospel with them. Christmas is an opportune time to do this, partly because this celebration focuses on the birth of Christ. Interestingly, the Qur'an records the virgin birth of the Messiah (Al Masih). On the other hand, there are many reasons why we may feel daunted by the prospect of witnessing to a Muslim. One reason is because the Qur'an emphatically denies two foundational truths of the Bible: 1) Jesus is the Son of God, and 2) He died on the cross to save us from our sins. Is there a way to overcome these barriers and answer their objections?

A wise approach is to begin by taking a closer look at the story of Christ's birth, noting especially how he was named. According to the Qur'an and the Bible the name given to Mary's baby came from an angel of God. Obviously God did not choose this name randomly but purposely. So we can ask our friend, “Why do you think God chose this particular name, Yeshua?” (Jesus, Isa) “Did you know there's a prophecy that correlates with his name? Do you know the meaning of the name Yeshua?”

By asking intriguing questions like these we can engage Muslims in conversations that are “full of grace, seasoned with salt.” A booklet titled, “Signposts to Paradise” is available online that explores these questions more fully. Ultimately, of course, Jesus name is the cornerstone truth of the Bible, as it is written, “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth … this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected … [he] has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12) A fuller discussion of this theme is available here.

4) Star that signalled the Messiah's birth

The prophet Isaiah described Messiah's birth as a “sign” and Balaam foresaw the rising of a Messianic star/sceptre. We shouldn't be surprised, therefore, that wise men in the east interpreted the appearance of a special star as a sign that a King was born in Israel. Christ's identity as King is a vital part of the Christmas story and it is an important aspect of the Good News of the kingdom that we are commanded to proclaim to the whole world.

How then can we start a conversation with unbelieving friends about the star of Christmas and then trace this theme from the OT prophets through to the NT? You could say something like this, “We often see a star at the top of a Christmas tree or a bright star above the nativity scene with baby Jesus in a cradle. But do you know the meaning behind this star?” Here is another question you might pose if your talking with a refugee from Iran/Iraq/Syria, “Have you heard of a Jewish wise man named Daniel (Danyal) who held a prominent position in your part of the world (the Kingdom of Babylon) about 1500 years ago?” There is an interesting prophecy about a star that Danyal probably knew which explains how the star became such an important symbol in the celebration of Christ's birth which we call Christmas. If your friend is curious to know more, you may tell the story of the wise men, or better yet, read Matthew 2:1-12. After reading this story ask your friend, “It's interesting to consider, 'Why did these astrologers (magi) believe this star signalled the birth of a Jewish King?”

Show from the passage how the religious leaders identified the Messiah's birth place by quoting what the prophets foretold in Micah 5:2-5. After reading these verses I suggest that you look at Numbers 24:17, a prophecy by a Gentile seer which links the imagery of a star with a scepter, i.e. a King. Nearly one thousand years later, an Israelite prophet Daniel rose to prominence among the wise men (and astrologers) in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. He probably knew about Balaam's prophecy of a star. The likelihood that he knew this prophecy is increased when we consider how brilliant and godly Daniel was. We read in Daniel 1:20 (NIV), “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (The Holman Christian Standard Bible refers to these wise men as “diviner-priests and mediums”.) Moreover, Daniel would have informed his fellow wise men about this prophecy of a star, and they in turn, probably passed on this knowledge to their students. This explains how in the first century BC, magi from the east – the same part of the world where Daniel presided as chief of the wise men – understood that this star indicated the birth of a Jewish King. *

Micah 5:2-5 not only explains where the Messianic King would be born, it says he will “be highly honoured all around the world and he will be the source of our peace.” (bold font added) When the Messiah was born the angels announced peace on earth to all whom God favours.” (Luke 2:14; cf. 1:79) As the end drew near and it became clear that the Jewish leaders had rejected Jesus as their King, his heart broke and he cried, “I wish that even today you would find the way of peace. But now it is too late and peace is hidden from you.” (Luke 19:42, bold font added) The vision of a Messianic King who will eventually bring worldwide peace is not unique to the Bible, there are also hints of it in the Qur'an and Muslim traditions. You can read more details here.

5) God's inexpressible gift

Giving gifts is a well-known tradition associated with Christmas. Lots of people who don't know the Lord Jesus as their Saviour love giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time. How can we help our unsaved friends to take a closer look at this tradition, giving us an opportunity to explain the real meaning of Christmas? Why not ask them, “Do you know why people give each other gifts at Christmas?”

You can continue the conversation by explaining that the tradition of giving gifts began when God gave the special gift of his Messiah. Isaiah prophesied that God would send his Messiah and this gift would be for everyone. We read in Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”. Then in chapter 49:6 he says of the Messiah, “you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

No wonder the Scripture exclaims, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (1 Corinthians 9:15) Perhaps we need to reflect on what this gift means. Any gift by its very nature is something we receive. It is not something we deserve. It is not something we have a right to, neither should we feel we must pay for it. This is the last thing the giver wants us to do! The appropriate response of the receiver is simply to accept the gift with thanks.

Suppose I was a guest in your home and you served me a cup of coffee. What would you think if I tried to pay you for it? Wouldn't you be shocked, even offended? That's because hospitality is a gift. You would never think of accepting payment for it. It's a gift to be received. However, hospitality is also a gift we can all give – not only to our family and friends but also to the poor and refugees who may be outside our comfort zone.

In the OT Moses instructed the Israelites to celebrate the good things the Lord had given them and their households. Then he added, “Remember to include ... the foreigners living among you in the celebration.” (Deut. 26:11)

God has given us a priceless gift. There is no way anyone can repay God for what he has done. Romans 11:35-36 speaks of God when it says, Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

What pleases God is when we believe and receive the incredible free gift of salvation that cost him so much. But what pleases him even more is when we share it with others. Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate what God has done for us but also to open our hearts, our homes and our tables so that others can also discover the greatest gift of all, Jesus. “Freely you received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:8) You may also want to read a relevant online article titled, God is hospitable: Shouldn't we be too?

All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.

If you want to contact me please communicate by email.


You may like to see research by FA Larson explaining why the magi believed the (Bethlehem) star signalled the birth of a King. Astronomer David Weintraub has also written a helpful article on this question, titled, Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem? which is available online here.