Friday, February 22, 2013

Living Dangerously From The Beginning

Isaiah 60.1-6; Matthew 2.1-12

Whether or not Mathew intended his story about the wisemen to be a commentary on Isaiah Chapter 60, that is how generations of Christians have interpreted it. That’s why the wisemen have come to be seen as kings riding on camels.

Matthew includes his story in the Gospel for a number of reasons: first to show that the birth of Jesus is not just significant for Jewish people, or even for human beings - it is a truly show-stopping event with comic significance; second, he wants to show that even people from other faiths can acknowledge the importance of Jesus, since the wisemen were probably Zoroastrians, an ancient faith which began in Persia and attaches huge significance to the victory of light over darkness; third, he wants to show that Jesus’ birth fulfils ancient Jewish prophecies; and finally to show that Jesus makes a difference to politics and world events. Believing in him is not just a private and personal thing.

It’s interesting that - in his Christmas story - Matthew chooses to include the theme of danger from the very beginning. There’s nothing cosy about his version of the Nativity. The story begins with the ominous words, ‘In the time of King Herod...’ and later, of course, the cruel and scheming King slaughters innocent children and forces Mary and Joseph to flee into exile to escape his wrath. Although, according to Matthew, their real home is in Bethlehem and they have a house there, they dare not return - even after Herod’s death - and start a new life, incognito, in Nazareth.

In the passage from Isaiah, the kings bring only two gifts, gold and frankincense, whereas in Matthew’s story there is a third gift - myrrh - reminding us of the sorrow and danger that lie ahead for Jesus. To live with him and to follow him is to accept challenge, risk and danger as part and parcel of our everyday existence. Being his friend is not a featherbed choice. He faced danger from the moment of his birth until his crucifixion, and he asks us to be prepared to do the same. But he promises to be with us - holding our hands and leading the way - in every peril or danger that we might face.

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