The wise men in this the Epiphany story symbolise all the nations of the earth coming to worship God.(Matthew 2:1-12) This is a very different story from the Christmas story with shepherds coming to a stable. This story is set against the violent world of kings and palaces and power. Remember what follows? The wise men return to their own country another way, and Herod then sends his soldiers who kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem under 2 years old. Jesus and his family led by Joseph, who has been warned in a dream, just manage to escape as refugees into Egypt. It all sounds very modern and familiar doesn’t it? We only have to think of Syria or Palestine today to realise this!
That’s why our other Readings and our Psalm are full of visions of all the peoples of the world coming together as one, to worship the one God. In our 1st Reading (Isaiah 60:1-6) the Jerusalem Isaiah was talking about, 400 years before the time of Jesus, was a pretty sad place too. The people had just returned after many years in exile to find the city walls, the Temple and many of the buildings in ruins. Isaiah strives to lift them with a vision of future glory, but Matthew in his Gospel shows us that the great city of Jerusalem which now has a beautiful Palace and a yet more beautiful Temple is not really glorious at all. It is all a surface beauty, whilst the true glory lies about 5 miles south in the little town of Bethlehem.
The Psalm too has to be looked at in a new way. “All nations shall fall prostrate before you O Lord.” was originally, like the passage from Isaiah, a song of the glory of God found in Jerusalem. But it has hints of a future that is very different. “He will have pity on the weak and save the lives of the poor” This points us forward to a different kind of glory. Somehow, in a way that the Psalm writer does not yet know, those with power will no longer dominate and oppress others, but will serve and support even the weakest in society.
How this will happen is still a mystery isn’t it? We see everywhere, in our world of instant news, how often power is used like Herod used it, and we despair that things will ever be different! In our 2nd Reading today (Eph 3:2-3.5-6) Paul certainly admits that this is all a mystery, but says that the mystery is solved when all the peoples of the world – Jews like himself, and Jesus and the apostles, and Pagans like us – are all “parts of the same body.” So where is this one body of which we are all part? For Paul ,and so for us, this new united body drawing all the nations together is the Church – the Body of Christ.
This has always been for me one of the glories of being a Catholic. When I was the Priest for Brookes University we used to have an International Mass three times a year where we celebrated how international we were. In a small Chapel , of maybe 30 students, we might get as many as 15 nationalities present, and it is similar in many city churches today. In Eynsham, out in the Oxfordshire countryside, we are not quite so international, but even so I reckon we often have at least 7 nationalities at our Mass. Maybe more ?
Some of you already know that the only newspaper (apart from the local one) that I read is the newspaper from the Vatican that records what the Pope has been doing and saying in the last week. http://www.osservatoreromano.va One of the things I like to read is who the Pope has appointed as a Bishop, because it also reminds me how much we are an International Family – a foretaste of heaven. Let me just share with you the selection from two of the recent publications. The Pope recently appointed new Bishops in Algeria, Mauretania, Germany, Italy, Nigeria, Brazil, the USA, Haiti, Canada, Argentina! Quite a list in 2 weeks of work! He also receives many international diplomats and visitors and comments regularly on international news.
This is, of course, still, like the coming of the wise men to see Jesus in Bethlehem, a vision into which sadly the powers of this world intervene to draw people apart into their various ghettoes. But vision is important even if it is still unfulfilled, and that is why we are called Sunday by Sunday to live this vision at Mass coming not for ourselves but for God and thus for one another where no-one is more important than anyone else. For here at Mass we are simply one family; all equal under God ; all different yet one ; all gathered like the wise men, to worship the God who comes to us as a new kind of King, a King of peace and love – Jesus the baby at Bethlehem.