January 2011 - Newsletter
The story of the wise men coming to Jesus and his parents is often part of the children's school nativity plays. In truth it represents something that happened well after his birth. It is recorded by Matthew in his very conservative Jewish Gospel. For he understands the messianic significance of these strange visitors from other nations. The prophetic tradition pointed to the time when the Gentile world would come to be part of the new world order that messiah would bring. The nations will become part of his rule of peace. These travelers from unknown lands in the East, no doubt following the spice route were magi, students of the stars, and through such study hoping to chart the fortunes of men, nations and the world order. They had spotted a fresh heavenly body, perhaps a comet, though we shall be unable to verify the details now. One thing is clear that whatever they saw spoke to them of a royal birth. Out there a new king was born. Their journey was made under the enthusiasm of finding a king. In doing so they stirred up a hornets' nest in Herod's court. For Herod was a paranoid dictator who faced continual threats on his life and was capable of horrific reprisals on any who sought to depose him. A possible rival to his legitimacy seemed a danger he could not ignore. There was a birth, but that of a child in ordinary circumstances, born to a local craftsman and his teenage wife. They brought strange gifts, we are told, to do with the life and death of a kingly personage. Afraid of Herod and maybe his interrogation techniques they made good their journey home. In later years they may have reflected on their quest and perhaps, as in TS Elliott's poem, questioned the real value of their journey and the significance of the ordinary family they found.
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worse time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
the very dead of winter.
The poem continues-
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
For Christian believers this story becomes the foundation for a great season in the church year as they reflect on the significant influence of the gospel on the world. We call this time of the year Epiphany, indicating that the child is no ordinary man but is shown to the world as its rescuer. His light shines out to a world of need, to people who walk in darkness and to dwellers in the sad land where the very shadow of death falls on all. He is the light to lighten the Gentiles. His light is the true light that lightens every man in the world .
It may well be that Holman Hunt's great painting, entitled ' the Light of the World', springs to mind. It shows Jesus holding a lantern in what is a very English orchard . The influence of the Christ child knows no boundaries so that this very English Victorian artist can, in another millennium, claim that he who is light of the world transforms his age and his contemporaries. This Jesus is our contemporary, too, and we begin the new year by recognizing that he is here for us and 2011 can be a journey with him for us ,our church and our society.
May God bless your New Year,