Christmas Card and Letter from William McElwee Miller
Among the cards of greeting which you will receive during the Christmas season, there will no doubt be some which picture the Wise Men on their tall camels eagerly following the Star as it led them to Bethlehem. They had come from the East, probably some part of the Persian Empire, and they were members of the order of the Magi, the priests of the Zoroastrian religion. They came seeking the King, and the found Him and worshipped Him. They were the first foreigners to obeisance to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The picture of the Magi presenting their gifts to the newborn King, which I am sending to you was painted by a famous artist who now lives in the land from which the Magi came. Several years ago when the Committee on World Literacy and Christian Literature invited Christian artists round the world to submit paintings of the Nativity from which one would be chosen for a Christmas card, the award went to Agha Hussein Behzad of Teheran. In 1958, 300,000 copies of Behzad's exquisite representation of the Wise Men kneeling before Jesus Christ were distributed by "Lit-Lit", and after that, the plates were sent to Teheran. I obtained the enclosed card which was printed in Iran from the Inter-Church Literature Committee, Box 1505, Teheran.
The artist Behzad was not always a Christian. Many years ago at the close of a Sunday evening service in the Evangelical Church of Teheran, an Iranian Christian came to me and said, "A friend of mine who is in great need of Christ is sitting in the back of the church. Please come and speak to him." I followed the Christian to the pew in the rear, on which was seated a weary and dejected little man. "This is my friend Agha Behzad," said the Christian to me, and from that time, Behzad and I have been friends. His needs, like the needs of all of us, were indeed great. Soon he put his life into the hands of the Savior and became a Christian.
In the years that followed, Behzad won fame as a miniature painter both in his own country and also in Europe and America. He was always busy in his studio, yet, whenever we asked him to paint for us or our friends, pictures of Christ, or to make illustrations for Persian Christian books, or to design patterns for Persian tapestries in which the figure of Christ was be woven, he was always glad to use his great skill in the cause of his Master.
When "Lit-Lit" arranged to give Agha Behzad a beautiful medal and a citation in appreciation for the picture of the Magi which he had painted, the privilege of making the presentation was given to me. So one morning, several of Behzad's friends in the church went with me to the artist's tiny studio, where he was sitting on the floor working with his brush, and interrupted him long enough to present the medal and the certificate. Very quietly and humbly, he said in reply, "I have received many honors in my life, but I count this honor greater than all the rest. For the others came to me from men, but this honor is from Jesus Christ."
I last visited my friend before leaving Iran in December, 1962, he was
working on a fairly large picture, in which a great crowd of people were
joyfully pouring out of the gateway of a walled city. "What is
that?" I asked. Behzad replied, "This is a picture I am painting at
the order of the Iranian government for the 2500th Anniversary of the
Iranian monarchy. It is to commemorate the clemency of Cyrus
the Great who encouraged the Jewish exiles, a small minority in his great
Empire, to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple."
(Ezra, Chapter 1).
But most of the Hews did not return to the Holy Land, and it was probably from the descendants of those who remained in the East that the Magi heard of a King who was to be born in Judea. There is a Persian proverb, "Seekers are finders." These Wise Men were seekers, but the needed a guide. So God put a Star in the sky to assure them that the Promised King had been born, and this Star which first appeared in the East finally shone on them again and led them to the presence of Jesus Christ. If the Star had failed to give its light, would these seekers have ever seen the Savior and laid their treasures at his feet?
In the East today, there are many seekers, men and women whose deepest needs have not been met by their old cultures and religions, and who want something better. God knows their needs, and has made abundant provision for them in His Son. But how are they to find the way to Bethlehem, and to Calvary, and to the Empty Tomb? They must have a guide -- and today, God chooses to guide seekers not by stars in the sky but by those men and women on earth to whom Christ said, "You are the light of the world." If a Christian man had not guided his artist friend to Christ, Behzad's needs would never have been met, and this beautiful picture would never have been painted. And if we who know Christ fail to go to the help of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iran and other lands of the East where the church is small, to assist them in their God-given task of guiding their fellow-countrymen to the Savior of the World, many sincere seekers will never become finders.
The population of Iran has doubled since I went to Teheran in 1919, and is now said to be 20 million, of whom 98% are Muslims. During the past half-century, the Protestant churches have grown slowly, and are exercising a Christian influence today, but have a communicant membership of not more than 5000. The number of foreign missionaries in Iran working in fellowship with the Iranian Christians is little more than half of what it was twenty-five years ago, and five of the hospitals once conducted by the Presbyterian and Episcopal Missions have been closed for lack of medical personnel. At this time when Iran is more open to the Gospel than any other land in the Middle East, the missionary outreach of the church in some parts of the country is weaker than it was a generation ago. God's Star of Guidance for today is so dim that many seekers have never seen it.
Since my retirement I have spoken in many churches in different parts of America and have tried to encourage Christians to go forward with the missionary task which was given by our Lord to all His followers. At this Christmas season, as we remember how our Savior came from heaven to earth for us, should we not dedicate ourselves anew to the mission of the church, the work of going into all the world and making Him known to all those for whom He died?
Mrs. Miller joins me in wishing you a very Blessed Christmas.
William McElwee Miller