I wonder how differently the gospels might have come out if they had been written as a journal each day as the stories unfolded.
Instead, we know that they were written by people who already knew the end of the story. They had already experienced the Risen Lord. So they saw meaning in things that they might not have noticed at the time. As readers we need to be alert to these.
But also, we need to understand the influence of the historical or political context of these events on the way the stories are told. Matthew’s announcement that God had appointed a new “King of the Jews” in this child born in Bethlehem takes significance from the nature of Herod as a vassal-King, appointed by Rome and holding power at Rome’s pleasure.
The story we read today, which marks the end of our Season of Christmas, is a story that very clearly has the end of the story in sight.
Matthew places a great significance in his story of the place of King David’s lineage and of the town of Bethlehem. These ROYAL images are vital in conveying the importance of this man. And that royalty is focussed in what seems to be a rather exclusive kingdom of Jewish people.
It is true that when you peel away some of the layers that Jewish people had an important responsibility for the Gentiles around them. In fact the ancient Abrahamic covenant contained the promise that through God’s blessing of the Great Family, all people would be blessed. But to a large extent, Jewish people felt that they had an exclusive relationship with YHWH.
So right from the outset of his telling of the Gospel story, Matthew alerts his readers to the beginning of a new way.
Now, we must consider what sorts of people these Wise men or Magi were. They were not actually kings. There were not necessarily three of them. Astronomers or astrologers, we only know that they saw significance in the alignment of stars and planets. And these things led them to Jerusalem.
These men came and by their gifts and devotion to the Christ Child transcended race, culture and religion to acknowledge the incarnation – of God come among us.
The ability of those outside the “elect” nation of Israel to recognise God among us is at the heart of our traditional emphasis on this celebration of Epiphany. I was amused by one dictionary definition:
a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely or common-place occurrence or experience.
Through this story of a somewhat common-place event the church gained an insight into a new reality that the incarnation has brought about – that all the world, Jews and Gentiles alike will know that God has come among us.
What I take from this story is that it reminds us that the family of God is an inclusive one, not an exclusive one. People don’t have to be good enough to become part of this family – none of us are good enough. When people are welcomed into this family their lives can be transformed. That is the gospel – or the Good News.
For me this means that the way we are the church must be welcoming and open to all. This is what GRACE is all about. It means remembering that we all bleed red blood, we all have feelings that get hurt, we are all children of God and carry God’s image within us.
Like those wise men we are all on a journey of discovery – we are seeking out the one who brought real life to earth. And he says that he is the way to the Father. It is that way we are all doing our best to discover and follow.
So, comrades, let us travel together with the same joy the wise men experienced when they found the Christ Child.