Thursday, 6 January 2011

The "Wise Men" have arrived ...

Today is Epiphany, the day on which Christians in the west celebrate the arrival of the "Magi" described in Mathew's Gospel account of the Nativity and the revealing of the Christ Child to the world outside Israel. It is no accident that the revealing of this special child was first to the shepherds and then to the Gentile "kings" - then, as now, faith threatened the authority of the ruling classes and their lucrative businesses. So the Child is revealed, not to the high born and powerful of Israel, but to the lowest caste of all in that society, the shepherds. The visiting "Magi" must have come as a bit of a shock to the Holy Family who had obviously gone to some trouble to keep a low profile.

Those who have taken the trouble to study Jewish custom and culture in this period will have realised that Joseph was not exactly living in "poverty." The fact he owned an ass, could afford to travel and was evidently pretty well connected are all suggestive of someone with a much higher place in his society. The Law required Mary be stoned to death for her "sin" of getting pregnant before marriage - yet Joseph could evidently "buy off" the authorities, hardly the action of a man in poverty. Likewise, his "work," which in English is "carpenter" does not quite convey the 1st Century reality, which would be better described as Property Developer and Builder Inc.

We can also be pretty sure the Hellenic Maccabean rulers - Herod was a usurper - were keen to make use of any "Messiah" child or no - to regain their power. So the visit of the Magi would have worried Joseph, but it was a major part of God's plan precisely because it presaged Christ's being revealed in the Gospels to the rest of the world. Kings they may not have been, sages they may well be, but they represented the rest of humanity when they visited Bethlehem sometime after the birth.

The Orthodox Churches celebrate "Christmas" today as a result. So, to all my Orthodox friends, I wish you a very blessed Epiphany and Christmas.

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