A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Here we are today, celebrating one of the most imaginative and colourful events in the life of our faith, because today is our Feast, the Feast of the Gentiles.
St Matthew’s account of the visit of the wise men, – the only account we have in the Gospels- is one of the most, beautiful and impressive images in the whole of the Christmas story. Yet what we know about these strangers is very little indeed. We don’t know how many there were, we do not know their names, or where they actually came from, and over the centuries many traditions, much speculation and academic study has surrounded the account which we have heard today. But very briefly, we need to continue to understand what St Matthew’s purpose was in including this account in his Gospel. More than any other of the Evangelists he wanted to prove beyond doubt to his own people, the Jews, that Jesus is the promised Messiah. We have seen two examples of how he attempts to do this already over the Christmas period and today’s Gospel continues that aim. At a very simple level, what Matthew is saying through this account is that if such learned, important men as the Magi risked their lives and reputations to travel miles and miles in search of the Christ child, and having found him they worshipped and adored him, then why can’t you, the Jews accept him? After all the wise men were the fulfilment of what Isaiah wrote about :
‘A multitude of camels shall come from Midian and Ephah, and those from Sheba shall come and shall bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.’
He did the same with the account of Herod’s killing of the baby boys, which by including that in his Gospel, he was saying to his Jewish readers, Look if Herod went to such lengths in his attempt to destroy the child of Bethlehem, he must have had very good reasons to recognise that he was the one promised by the prophets. Why, Matthew is saying, why if Herod could see who Jesus was, why can’t you?
At his birth, Jesus was first visited by shepherds in the fields, common coarse men who abandoned everything they were doing to go in search of ….what? An ordinary little baby whose only claim to distinction was that he was born in a stable. That is, until they saw him and when they did, they understood and knew in their hearts that what they had seen was a manifestation of what the angel had told them and they couldn’t hold their tongues – they raced back to the fields excitedly telling everyone they met on the way what had been revealed to them. And the shepherds remember were Jews.
In the eyes of the people of the Evangelists’ time, Jesus birth was a Jewish affair- the coming of the promised Messiah sent to deliver his people – the Jews – from bondage. Full stop.
But at Epiphany, we celebrate what St Paul talks about in the Epistle for today – remember? We Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body and sharers in the promise of Christ through the Gospel.
Today we are celebrating our arrival on the scene- Jesus came into the world not just for the Jews but for all mankind, Jew and gentile, and although the significance of the event was not recognised at the time, the coming of the wise men from far off lands set the seal on God’s purpose in sending his Son to us, to be the Saviour of the World. And that is why what we are celebrating is so important – the wise men represent the whole of mankind, Jew, Greek, men and women from every nation on the earth to whom God presented his Son and all of whom are called to come, worship and adore.
The visit of the wise men set the pattern for all Christian people from their day to ours – they set out in search of the king, not a king but the King, God’s own Son, and when they found him they gave him the most costly of gifts. In the 21st century, we too are called to continue that journey in our own place and time, a journey in search of the Christ Child and when we find him, we will be compelled to fall on our knees and present to him the most precious gift of all, the gift of our hearts.