Sunday, January 6, 2013


the adoration of the kings by jan gossaert

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last week's sermon was about a passage that is unique to St Luke, so I suppose it is only fair that we should look this Sunday at a passage that occurs only in St Matthew's Gospel, the journey of the Magi to visit the Christ-child in Bethlehem, also called the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

It is a passage that has caught the imagination of generation after generation of Christians … and why wouldn't it? It is a particularly dramatic account. It has mysterious wise-men, who follow a star; a wicked king who attempts to deceive them; it has visions from God, warning the magi not to return to Jerusalem, and telling Joseph to flee with his little family into Egypt; and it ends with the horrific story of King Herod's mad slaughter of young children in an attempt to thwart God's will.

The figures of the Magi themselves have especially attracted the imaginations of Christians down through the years – who are they? And truthfully, we can not answer for we know almost nothing about them. We can not even say how many there were, because St Matthew does not say. All we can say with certainty was that there was more than one, for the word magi is a plural word. Were there two? Were there ten? We think three because there were three gifts and we assign one gift to each wise-man. But we have no real idea.

But nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum, and many of the missing details have been filled in over the years until we quite a fixed idea of who and what they were in our tradition. What the tradition has added is instructive … it has built on St Matthew's intent to make it abundantly clear that the coming of the Messiah was for all people's – an idea that will be made explicitly clear at the end of his Gospel when Christ commands his followers to go and makes disciples of all peoples.

And so all the details of the tradition have aimed at reinforcing the universality of Christ. And so the wise men become Kings … and kings of course are leaders of their people … to portray them as kings has them representing the people they rule … and then there is their skin-colour: traditional representations has Caspar and Melchior as white and Balthasar as dark-skinned … all races are invited in … and their ages represent a range as well … Caspar is normally depicted as being old, Balthasar as middle-aged, and Melchior as young … age is no barrier to coming to Christ … there is no ageism in the Kingdom of God! Alas for the feminists among you, the tradition arose in an age when the term 'politically correct' was neither heard nor dreamed of … but I can assure you that portraying these men as kings was intended to invite all their subjects in, and that included women also! And in any event, the centrality of our Blessed Lady in any depiction of this scene should surely serve to underscore the fact that women are mostly certainly to be as an essential part of the Kingdom … a fact that is emphasised by the fact that even though Matthew is 'Joseph's' nativity, just as Luke is Mary's, Joseph disappears from the account during the visit of the Magi.

Christ in his coming, St Matthew in his telling, and the Church in its development & maintenance of the Tradition all work together to invite everyone into God's Church … their origins, age, or gender do not matter: all are welcome. Sadly, not all accept that invitation. Why? Well, as we have recounted in St John's Gospel, some hear and say 'This is a hard teaching.' And they walk away. The Christian life is not easy. It wasn't easy for the wise men to find the child either. But they persevered. And finding him, what did they do? They worshiped him. They did not first attempt to say: 'let's talk about what you are asking of us … take the ten commandments for example … most of them are OK, but there's two or three that are a bit hard … they're not really real world stuff, now are they? How about we leave those ones out from now on.' No, they simply knelt and worshiped him. Of course they did. They were in the presence of the the Divine and that is what one must do in such situations. 

But also consider the fact that the Holy Family opened the doors of their homes to these foreign gentlemen who were strangers to them. Do we do our part to make others welcome, no matter what their origins? Or do we make them feel like they are at best tolerated in what is our own, private little club? The example of the Holy Family reminds us of our sacred duty to make all welcome.

And so that is what we must do. We must accept the invitation that the Christ-child offers to all … and accepting it, we must accept all that goes with it, however hard we may sometimes find it … and accepting the invitation for ourselves, we must extend that welcome to all others. Some thing I pray we all may do, in Jesus' name. 

Sermon notes, Epiphany 2013


  1. What a complex these feminists and homosexuals must have; for you to emphasize that they are significant to the Lord.

    Have a great Epiphany.

  2. Hi Mr M,
    I think you need to read the sermon again ... I never mentioned homosexuals ... however, I did stress that all are invited.

    And I did have a great Epiphany; we had a special carol service with readings on the theme & I solo'd on 'We three kings' with two of my sons! I hope yours was equally blessed.