Readings: Isaiah 60,1-6 Ephesians 3,2 3a,5-6 Matthew 2, 1-12
Anyone who has visited Cologne Cathedral and was shown around in the impressive Gothic vaults has probably also seen the beautiful golden shrine of the Holy Epiphany. The story is widely known and yet it remains mysterious and interwoven with all kinds of legends. In books on Medieval painting we find that the three wise men were often represented as the embodiment of the three stages of life: youth, maturity and old age. Better known to us is the display with three different skin colours: black for a representative of Africa, yellow skin for an Asian and a white person representing Europe.
The Gospel, however, does not speak of kings, nor of their number and certainly not of the age of the wise men. Which means that all those stories and legends around the three kings should not be seen as a news bulletin or documentary, but rather as an attempt to clarify the deeper meaning and meaning of the Gospel story.
It is not about historical characters, but about people of all ages from all the then known parts of the earth. In other words: it's about us. That is why the key phrase of this Gospel is the saying to me: "Upon seeing the star they were filled with great joy. They entered the house, saw the Child with his mother Mary, and on their knees they paid their homage. "Deep joy and reverence are reflected in this sense.
Perhaps we can be inspired by those three wise men. Besides, only on the basis of very vague information they go on their way and become active. They do not stay, like in-house scholars, bent deeply over their clay tablets; they also do not endlessly discuss calculations or interpretations. They do not get entangled in their doubts, to put the whole as unlikely aside and forget about it. No, these wise men are frank, communicative and enthusiastic people; people who are able to perceive and recognize large cosmic connections. God, the creator of the universe, controls the constellations of the stars and history; He works in the depths of the universe in the same way as on that small spot of earth called Judea.
This enormous contrast with the Jewish scholars at the court of Herod and with the ruler dependent on the mercy of Rome himself brings something else to light: the fact that pagans, who do not know the Jewish representations and traditions, are more susceptible to God's plans then the representatives of the Jewish people, who think they have the truth in lease.
But is not that often the case with us, Christians? The rigid adherence to traditions, for example, which are only understood by few people and which simply no longer make sense. Still often stubbornly insist on having the truth. Or the spiritual immobility against the many problems of our time. Or that often-occurring civil servant mentality that does not see the needs of the people or that simply makes people use them.
The wise men become active - despite the uncertainty. They take the risk; after all, the journey is not harmless and could ultimately also be in vain.
Do we not often act the other way round? We prefer not to take risks. If I do nothing, I can not do anything wrong. If I bury my talents, I can not lose them.
The wise men are guided. First through the star and then through the directions they got in their sleep. We, on the other hand, believe that we can always take control of everything ourselves. Although I always have to conclude again that my lack of oversight, my inadequate knowledge have often caused me to stumble. And yet I still think that I know best where to go; that I must map out my way to a happy and contented life; instead of entrusting myself to God's message that he can and can be the true compass in my life.
The wise men also expected something different at the end of their journey than what they found. Perhaps they thought of a prince, a king's son in suitable surroundings, with a large court and beautiful robes. But the three are simply convinced by reality: surprising, unpredictable and unsuspected, the Saviour reveals Himself as a simple baby of a simple mother. They find Him in a mud hut with a stamped clay floor. And yet they are not disillusioned. They rejoice "excessively", recognize the child as the saviour, and worship Him by prostrating themselves flat on the floor, as was customary for Eastern kings.
Let's be honest. We too have our fixed representation of God and what He has in mind with us. How quickly are we disillusioned when something does not go as expected. Although we should be able and able to know Him from Jesus' stories and parables.
The wise men from the East: If we read the story as one reads a fairy tale, Matthew wrote it in vain. If, on the contrary, I search for his meaning for me personally, then I notice that the evangelist has personally addressed each one of us.
Father Ed Bakker,
Priest and Missioner,
Anglican Catholic Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston on Tasmania