Lectionary Year A : Sunday 5th January 2020

♦ ♦ ♦ Matthew 2 : 1 – 12 ♦ ♦ ♦

The Visit of the Wise Men –

Psalm 72 describes the ideal king. While most kings of Israel fell short of this ideal (not least the brutal Herod), other nations could not have even conceived of such a kingship. The king must rule with justice and righteousness. He must defend the cause of the poor, deliver the needy and crush their oppressor. He must support those who have no helper and pity the weak and needy. The psalm has a prayer that righteousness and peace will flourish in his reign, and it is a prophecy – as with Isaiah – that the kings of foreign nations will bring gifts and fall down before the king of Israel.

The Church sees Jesus the Messiah/king reflected in this psalm and Isaiah’s prophecies, and Matthew presents us with a story about foreign kings presenting gifts and adoring the child Jesus, who Matthew believes to be the new king, the Messiah, not only for Israel but for the whole world. In fact, Matthew speaks of wise men (magoi in Greek, magi in English, something like astrologers or wizards) from the East, but we have come to call them kings precisely because of Psalm 72.

Matthew’s narrative is studded with quotations from and allusions to the Jewish Scriptures. The kings/wise men follow the star of Numbers 24.17, a star that ‘shall come out of Jacob’ and a royal sceptre that will rise out of Israel. This is a messianic star, the Star of David. Where will they find this newborn king? In Bethlehem, according to Micah 5.2.

When they get there, what gifts will they offer? Gold and frankincense, according to Isaiah 60. The parents’ later flight to Egypt is connected with Hosea 11.1 and Herod’s subsequent slaughter of the boys of Bethlehem is related to a prophecy in Jeremiah, but that connection doesn’t work very well. It is possible that Matthew’s narrative has been created imaginatively out of these OT passages. Whatever its historical veracity, this is the story that we tell to embed the reality of God’s appearance, God’s enfleshment, in this most unlikely of kings: a child of modest parents, in a modest house that is the new Temple outside Jerusalem, with a sanctuary from which no one is excluded.

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