In today’s gospel we have Matthew’s version of the birth of Christ with the emphasis on a king who would brook no rival and the arrival of these sages from a distant country seeking a new born king. Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus let us know that this new born king, born in a stable, came for the least of the least. The first to witness the birth of the Savior, were poor shepherds, people who had no standing in society at all. Today we would call them marginalized. These least were the first to see this wonder of wonder, God entering into humanity in the person of His Son, Jesus.
In Matthew’s gospel his take on the birth of Jesus is that Jesus came for everyone – for any person of any nationality who does what is right – these sages from – who knows where, represent all that nations of the earth – all are welcome, all are changed by this wonder of Divinity embracing humanity. Matthew’s gospel which was written long after Paul’s letter to Ephesians is affirming what Paul taught: the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body and sharers in the same promise in Christ Jesus.
Of all the teachings of Paul, this was the hardest one for Jewish Christians to accept, that Gentiles, non Jews, were embraced by God just as they were, that the Gentiles were the new Israel of God. In Christ there was no longer Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free – all were one – all were equally loved by God – all were reconciled, made one with God, through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. Matthew, who wrote for Jewish Christians, affirms this teaching of Paul in and through the imagery of these strangers, searchers coming from afar and who are welcomed by the Christ.
One of the great problems we face today is that of fundamentalism – not just the Islam extremist who sees anyone who does not agree with them as infidels. Not just the Hindu extremist who would kill anyone who converted to a different faith. We Christians have our own fundamentalist our own extremists too – Catholic and non-Catholic – unless we buy into their narrow, restricted, even distorted beliefs on God, on Jesus, on the church – we are out.
I love that statue of Christ at the entrance of the underground parking – I call it, ‘the welcoming Christ’, arms outstretched to embrace any and all who come to Him burdened with life’s troubles. But there are those who would tie those outstretched arms behind His back, restraining His love and welcome from those who do not believe as they believe, from those who have the maturity to think for themselves, to question and to search as these wise men in the gospel did.
As you know epiphany means manifestation – a eureka experience – an insight into something new and wonderful. That’s what we celebrate today – that awesome insight hidden to former generations but now revealed through God’s Spirit – the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body and sharers in the same promise in Christ Jesus.’ As St. Peter put it: ‘any person of any nationality who does what is right, is acceptable to God.’
As we continue to celebrate this feast of wonder and revelation we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be blessed to have those welcoming arms of the welcoming Christ and rejoice and respect the many ways the grace of God is working in the lives of all people – of all faiths, all denominations, and all nationalities.