We have now entered the period of the year which in church calendars is known as ‘Epiphany’. It is the period of time when we are supposed to reflect on the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus. In reality I think it is time of year when most people reflect on how much we have eaten over Christmas, how much we have spent on presents, and how come the decorations multiply in number between when we put them up and when we put them away for another year. On the whole I think it would be fair to say that in nonconformist churches like ours the Feast of Epiphany doesn’t really get a look in.
Which is a shame. Not necessarily because of the feast, but because of what it represents. In our traditional nativity plays the wise men turn up at the stable shortly after the shepherds have put in an appearance. But Matthew gives us hints in his gospel but this was later: perhaps up to 2 years after Jesus had been born. These hints include the fact that the star they saw rose to signify his birth (not Mary’s pregnancy), the length of time of preparation for and travelling on the journey from ‘the East’, that they visited Jesus in a house rather than a stable and Herod’s parameters for his infanticide, which were to kill all baby boys under the age of 2.
Timing aside, I think it is important that we recognise the significance of the wise men arriving to worship Jesus. This is a sign even in the birth narratives of Jesus that what he had come to do was for the whole world, not simply the Jewish people among whom he would live and predominantly share most of his teaching. These wise men were foreigners, not Jewish, and (scandal of scandals) were astrologers – all of which would have disqualified them in the eyes of the religious leaders of the day from being included in God’s story. It’s not insignificant that is Matthew who tells us about the wise men, since he was writing to a predominantly Jewish audience about Jesus. He was making the point right at the beginning of the Jesus narrative that the Kingdom of Heaven was much more inclusive than anyone had previously imagined.
And actually all those of us who have not been born with Jewish heritage should identify most with the wise men in the Christmas narrative. Not because of our wisdom or even because we read horoscopes (I still can’t understand why anyone does that!) Rather it is because they are our spiritual forefathers. They worshipped Jesus despite their lack of Jewish heritage. And of course in 3 gifts they gave we have a succinct summary of Jesus’ identity: gold, for the King of kings; frankincense, for his priestly role of making God accessible to us; myrhh, for his sacrificial death.
In our school nativity plays I always ended up as a narrator because I was good at reading (at least that’s what I tell myself, not that I was poor at acting). I always wanted to be Joseph because he had a key role, he was on stage for the whole time, he was the centre of the action. But now I rather fancy the idea of being one of the wise men. Perhaps I’ll see how wise a man I can be today…
Be blessed, be a blessing.
A woman takes her 16-year-old daughter to the doctor. The doctor says, “Okay, Mrs. Jones, what’s the problem?”
The mother says, “It’s my daughter, Debbie. She keeps getting these cravings, she’s putting on weight, and is sick most mornings.”
The doctor gives Debbie a good examination, then turns to the mother and says, “Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but your Debbie is pregnant – about 4 months, would be my guess.”
The mother says, “Pregnant?! She can’t be, she has never ever been left alone with a man! Have you, Debbie?”
Debbie says, “No mother! I’ve never even kissed a man!”
The doctor walked over to the window and just stares out it. About five minutes pass and finally the mother says, “Is there something wrong out there doctor?”
The doctor replies, “No, not really, it’s just that the last time anything like this happened, a star appeared in the east and three wise men came over the hill. I don’t want to miss it this time!”