6 January 2013

Matthew 2:1-12

"When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road." (vv. 10-12)


Today we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany. The name comes from a Greek word, meaning 'appearance' and used especially of a glorious appearance of the gods, arriving to rescue humans. In Matthew's Gospel there are no shepherds, and it is significant that Jesus' first appearance is to Gentiles (non-Jews), and far eastern pagans at that. Matthew makes a statement from the beginning of his Gospel - the good news embodied in Jesus Christ is for all peoples of all nations.

We are used to the three kings of the nativity plays, with paper crowns and old curtains for cloaks. The reality might strike us as a little sinister. Magi was the name given by Babylonians, Medes and Persians to priests or magicians, astrologers, soothsayers, sorcerers, interpreters of dreams; people engaged in grappling with life's mysteries and seeking ultimate truth. Many of these methods are still used today to engage with spirituality and to seek the truth, and Christians tend to regard them with suspicion. Yet the openness to truth, however surprising, of these three magicians led them to the Christ. Indeed, they were the first people to worship him, discerning the presence of God in a tiny Jewish baby.

Matthew contrasts these pagan astrologers, using the outlandish method of following a star to the truth, with the faithful Jewish king and his chief priests and scribes, who piously search the Scriptures. Yet the king is frightened by the truth, rather than attracted to it. King Herod was a puppet king of the Romans, who could be removed at any moment on a whim of the Roman governor. His position was precarious even without a pretender to the throne, so the Magi must surely have seen through his flimsy pretence of enthusiasm for the baby king. Later in the chapter Herod will attempt to extinguish the truth by trying to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18).

For Matthew the method of arriving at the truth is not important. What matters is our response to the truth. Do we allow it to disturb us and change us, or do we seek to extinguish it to maintain our comfort?

To Ponder

  • How do you feel about 'alternative' methods of seeking the truth?
  • Have you ever found yourself tempted to maintain your comfort rather than allow yourself to be disturbed by the truth? What were the fruits of allowing yourself to be disturbed?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.