The Revd Robin Sims-Williams
My wife and I are due to have our second baby in March. We already know its a girl, so we don’t need to worry about naming her George so soon after another well known princely baby, born around the corner, was given that name.
Already plans are a foot for the visiting of Grandparents, to welcome the new member into the family, and to help look after our older daughter, giving us a hope of getting some rest during those first few weeks. Guests, be they family or friends, will find themselves making cups of tea… actually, when in training college, when a baby was born a group of friends would make meals and drop them off to help the family as it struggled to rediscover equilibrium with a new life in their midst.
It seems a bit backwards, having a guest making the tea, or bringing dinner with them. Today’s Gospel reading is obviously about guests coming to see a new baby or a young boy, depending on your understanding of when the Magi reached Jesus. Today’s Gospel is also full of Juxtapositions.
Matthew goes to great lengths to tell us that Jesus’ father, Joseph, is born of the line of David, but Joseph is only Christ’s father by adoption. The Magi are presented as ‘Wise men’, but to the first reader’s of Matthew’s Gospel they would be considered foolish astrologers, Gentiles. They represent the great wisdom of the Gentiles, but still Gentiles, those outside of the special relationship God had with his people through the covenant. Yet these Gentiles know more about birth of the King of the Jews than Herod, who claims to be the Jewish King. The Cliched fresh pair of eyes find the lost key.
We are also reminded, even here in the midst of the incarnation, in the midst of God’s being recognised in the world, of those ways in which human politics can be so destructive, of the potential for greed and fear to overcome good. This reality is not denied or hidden, but a central part of this instalment of the Christmas story. These realities continue to be undeniable today particularly as we look to the parts of Persia and Babylon from which the Magi may have started their journey. Modern day Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lybia even the Sudan. The terrifying familiarity of refugees being forced to flee to neighbouring countries to avoid death. There is no doubt that this defenceless baby has come into a world in the midst of the dark, where the light of a star can be seen to guide us, like the Pilar of fire which led Moses and the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
The Magi’s gifts are for a royal baby, bound to die for his people, Gold for the authority of Kingship, Frankincense for the priestliness of Jewish ruler and Myrrh for the burial of a mortal man. But this too is juxtaposed by the undeniable life of a brand new child lying before them, by the simple surroundings of a stable, by the failure to maintain any ritual cleanliness living among animals, and by the very immortality of God’s son, finally demonstrated in his resurrection.
Mary and Joseph welcome the wise men in to their makeshift home and the Magi bring riches, but Paul reminds us that it is the boundless riches of Christ which are the true gift of this story. A gift for all humanity, Gentile and Jew. The wise men come representing all of humanity, welcoming the new baby into the world. But it is the baby who is the host, it is God who has extended his hospitality to all creation and invited them in. The word has come to his own, though his own do not know him.
With Christmas and New Years we have probably all had opportunity to practice or experience hospitality over the last four weeks. Hospitality is a juxtaposition in itself. It was once described to me as a peculiar situation where the host, who has all the control, chooses to give it up such that they have all the obligation and the guest, who is by definition the most vulnerable, is thus given almost all the rights. God exemplifies hospitality here by becoming vulnerable, giving humanity the opportunity to chose to come in, and to participate.
Imagine the Magi making themselves useful, Melchior setting about making a regenerative brew of herbal tea, while Balthazar gets food for the donkey, and Casper entertains the young boy, giving the rather tired Mary and Joseph a chance to rest.
As God’s Church, we are called to act in hospitality, not just when we invite others into our homes, but in the way we welcome them into our lives. By caring for others, taking concern for their needs and committing ourselves to love them we are obliging ourselves to give those more vulnerable the rights we would want for ourselves. We should seek to demonstrate this kind of generous hospitality as individuals, as families, as the church, and as a nation.
It is in this light we should be considering, as a nation, our views on immigration and refugees. Recognising the benefits this country has had as a result of the many immigrants that have travelled, following a light of hope in a new place, and sharing the riches of their skills and culture with us. Remembering that Christ, who was himself a refugee, compels us to care for those whose homes and lives have been taken from them amidst the violent destruction of their own countries. The implications for our attitudes towards Syrian refugees, and European migrants can be complex, but it is perhaps appropriate that our borders should be opened more widely as we celebrate the arrival of the Magi.
By the eyes of foreigners in their midst, the glory of Christ is revealed. By the welcoming gifts of royalty, the boundless riches of the gift of Jesus begins to be comprehended. By God’s grace, we can aspire to share God’s hospitality with the whole world.