Matthew 2: 1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.’ 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. 5 They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.”’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f]until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
When we tell someone’s story, it’s a natural instinct to look into their past, to ask, how they came to be like this? Where did they come from? What were they like when they were little? Could you tell, even at an early age, what they would be like? Were there any clues?
This was the theme I used, last October, in my speech as Father of the Bride. What were Alice and Alex like when they were little? Were they always destined for each other? Part of the reason I took this line is that I had some good material!
As part of my speech I was able to show a piece of home video which my wife Sheenagh took, of Alice, when she was three years’ old.
Her baby sister was having her afternoon nap, and Sheenagh and Alice had got out the dressing up box, and there was Alice, sitting on the sofa, with a piece of net curtain arranged as a veil, talking to camera about her wedding. She was going to marry Bob, and what did he look like? “Like Samson!” And what colour are his eyes? “Grey.” and his hair? “Blue! “ And where are you going on your honeymoon? To the shop, first we’re going to the shop, to buy me and my wife a ring.” Interesting that she saw herself in the leading part, so Bob logically was the wife! And then Sheenagh asked little Alice to show her how she was going to walk in her veil, and she did this wonderful procession round the room! Very cute! I think Alex liked the Samson bit, but he wasn’t sure about getting blue hair!
I tell you this, because in a way for me there is a connection with the gospel writers, Luke and Matthew, and their nativity stories.
Mark, whose gospel is the shortest and some say the oldest, starts his account of Jesus’ life with his baptism, as an adult. But Matthew and Luke are both compelled to go back into the past, to find out and then tell the story of how it all started, to look for the clues, the points of consistency between Jesus birth and early life and who he would become.
And so for me, this emotional truth about the uniqueness of Jesus, showing through right from his birth is how I make sense of the nativity stories. Honestly, I am not sure as to whether every detail is historically accurate. And it doesn’t really matter, for there is a deeper truthfulness.
And what you find is that the story of his birth mirrors the story of his life – there is a consistency between the two.
He lived with the poor and the outcast, and he was born amongst the poor and outcast.
Those with power felt threatened by his life, and also by his birth, and reacted with brutal violence.
And, for all that he lived, and was born, in the heart of Judea, he encountered and embraced gentiles, foreigners, in his adult life and in his birth. This is the message of Epiphany and the wise men. He came, and lived, for the whole world.
And finally, for me the most moving aspect of Christmas is his vulnerability – a helpless baby, born as Saviour of the World. And I wonder, was that something that was also true of the adult Jesus? Passionate in his teaching and his message, and yet also strangely vulnerable, defenceless in the eyes of the world.