The Wise Men and Brexit.
As everyone knows from the carol, Christmas has 12 days, culminating in a spectacular display of gymnastics by a group of peers. In the dark days of late December and early January, particularly in former times, any excuse for a celebration would have been welcome. But eventually holidays have to come to an end and the normal round has to be resumed. The church moves on, but with one last moment of celebration before the time of horse-hair shirts and self-denial/general misery that is Lent in the popular imagination. This is Epiphany, when we remember the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus and it is the season we are now in.
The story of the Wise Men is perhaps best known from the carol, “We three Kings of Orient are” with the “star of wonder, star of might, star of royal beauty bright, westward leading”. The star periodically comes in the news as people speculate about what might have been the basis for the story; an alignment of two planets perhaps? This year, had anything been visible, we could have seen such an alignment on December 21st. This speculation is interesting in its own way, but to me it seems to miss the most important part of the story. We only find the account of the visit of the wise men in Matthew’s Gospel and he is at pains to point out that they are not Jews. They come from the east. The Jews living in Palestine when Matthew wrote had survived numerous attempts to wipe them out; they had experienced deportation and had been living under foreign occupation for centuries. They had survived by closing in on themselves, rejecting foreign influences to preserve their own culture and faith, sustained by the hope that at some point God would step in and send them a saviour to rescue them. In some stories in the Gospels, Jesus seems lukewarm about reaching out to non-Jews. But in this story, at the very start of his Gospel, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is for all humanity. Matthew was a Jew, he wrote his Gospel for his fellow Jews, but from the first word, he grasps the Jesus came to break down barriers, not reinforce them. In the early days of a New Year, a year in which Brexit has finally been done, Epiphany reminds us of the revolutionary message, that God reaches out to all.