“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – a sentence many of us have heard often; this is how John describes the birth of Jesus, that God took human form and lived on earth. But the people who knew, who were granted to know that this had happened, were a strange group. The young woman chosen to be the mother and her fiancé, her elderly relative Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, and then the shepherds out on the hills and the Magi from the East; scholars have written much on who exactly the shepherds might have been, whether the night-watch doing the toughest and least-well-paid work, or maybe thy are the people who would most accept the true Shepherd; and history has labelled the Magi as Kings, astrologers, religious leaders from a different faith, whatever – they were definitely foreign.
These Magi, saw something unusual in the Created Order of things, a star of some kind that was not part of the normal night-sky. Whatever it was, it was enough to make them embark on a massive journey of exploration. The shepherds were astounded by the wonder of an angel and then a heavenly choir, and they too responded “Let us go and see”. And the rest of the world slept on and woke up and went about its business.
Matthew wrote his gospel primarily to people who had Jewish descent, but he included the arrival of foreign, Gentile people who discovered the truth, not from Scriptures but from a natural phenomenon, or maybe an unnatural phenomenon.
One of the deepest paradoxes of our faith is that God – Almighty God, the Creator, the Lord – is with us, has shared his life with us, yet has also given us the freedom to take no notice, and in fact most people take up that freedom, though Paul calls it bondage to sin, blind because we are enslaved to sin and need release. This is a troubling paradox – our human complacency.
And a second deep paradox is that the mercy of God ultimately triumphs over the judgement of God – “grace upon grace” as John puts it; “For God so loved the world ..” But that does not mean we take this for granted – it means we should “go and see”, we should make the spiritual journey that the Magi made, maybe prompted by the beauty of the Creation, maybe motivated by academic curiosity, maybe startled by something unusual or unexplained, maybe challenged by the example of someone’s witness. As we start a New Year, let us commit to making the time to go and see, and our response should be one of worship and wonder and praise.
Rev’d Peter Reiss