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Rev. Claire: Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015
Well, the wise men have arrived and finally the picture is complete.
Now we can pack away the nativity figures, put away the decorations for another year and get on with our lives – that is of course until we see the bills.
We like things in neat order.
Many people don’t realise that there is something wrong with that perfectly complete nativity scene.
If you read over today’s gospel you will see that the wise men came to Jesus’ house – not a stable.
They saw a child – not a baby.
They had been led by a star, yes, but that star appeared when Jesus was born and they had come quite a distance to get to him since then – even stopping for directions from Herod.
So what is the story of the wise men about?
I believe it is about understanding the other – not to change them but to tell them the wonderful news that they are all included in Jesus’ message.
Yesterday, I was at the funeral of a very special man, priest and politician, Roland De Corneille.
He believed in dialogue and was one of the people who began the Christian Jewish Dialogue.
It was before my time, but I had the privilege of his wisdom when we both attended St. Matthew the Apostle Oriole.
The Christian-Jewish dialogue led the way to dialogue among many different faiths something I have a passion for.
By dialogue, I don’t mean conversion – in fact, good dialogue can only happen between people who are deeply committed to their own faith.
As a Christian, I believe I do not have an exclusive right to Jesus.
I have especially found out how much the Muslims revere him believing that he rose to heaven and sits on the right hand of God!
By being inclusive we are also led to another side of Jesus.
In a book I have been reading called the Zealot, his revolutionary side is brought out – something else Roland believed in when he entered politics.
Someone has to speak the truth to power – the truth of inclusion of all – of social justice.
In the epistle, we heard more about Jesus’ mission of inclusion.
In telling of the mystery of God in Jesus to the Ephesians, Paul writes:
‘In former generations, this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it now has been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.’
The message which Jesus brought was one of inclusion – not just Jews – not just Christians – not just Anglicans.
It is interesting that only Matthew tells the story of the wise men.
He was known as the Apostle to the Jews.
He often quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures and goes to great lengths at the beginning of his gospel to prove Jesus’ lineage as a descendant of Abraham,
He was preaching to a people who had difficulty accepting that Jesus could be the awaited Messiah.
They were also a people who, believing themselves to be God’s chosen people, felt they had a corner on any communication with God and if this was indeed the Messiah, they needed to claim him for themselves – he was certainly not for some foreigners from the East.
It is so important that we realise that we also do not have an exclusive claim to Jesus.
And so Matthew told this story of the wise men from the East coming to pay their respects to Jesus in Bethlehem and thereby announcing him as Messiah to the Gentile world also.
Tradition has given these men names, Balthasar, Gasper and Melchior and portrayed them as representing three different races.
It was told that Balthasar was king of Arabia, Gaspar of India and Melchior a Persian.
The magi were in fact a Kurdish priestly caste who rose to power in ancient Persia – today Iran.
Their religion was Zoroastrianism, following the prophet Zoroaster.
Zoroastrianism is said to be the oldest monotheistic religion in the world.
It still exists although during the Ottoman advancement they were pushed to the East and the largest grouping are now in Mumbai in India.
There are actually two Zoroastrian temples here in Toronto one of them at Bayview and Steeles.
In fact one of the priests and his wife were at my ordination.
So people from religions other than Judaism were drawn to the Christ-child!
By accepting their gifts, Jesus affirmed these men of a different race and of a different faith and they recognized him as a great king come for all.
The message was and is that Jesus although born a Jew in Bethlehem, came for all – no race – no religion was excluded.
Who do you think the wise men would be today?
Maybe they would be Native Canadians – maybe Muslims or even Iraqi or Taliban
If Jesus were to be born today, who would visit him as a baby or as a child and worship him?
Would it be those of different faiths – Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or maybe even Zoroastrian?
Would they be expected to become members of an Anglican Church or even a recognized Christian church or would they return to their own to tell the good news of the birth of the king – to embrace him into their already rich religions?
The wise men did not stay and become Jews.
Did they return and spread the word that a great king had come for all people?
Are we examples of Christ to those who are different – do we accept all as our brothers and sisters equally valid in Jesus’ eyes - those who look different – those whose faith is different – those who dress differently – speak differently – worship in a different way.
Do we show them that Jesus loves them also?
Go home and think about it.
Make an effort to learn about other faiths and there are many opportunities in Toronto.
Speak to them – see the depth of their faith.
See how the message of Jesus speaks through them although maybe not in the same way as us.
I was speaking to a Shia Muslim the other day and she told me that they believe that Jesus came to them in the East.
It is all a mystery.
Instead of concentrating on our having exclusive rights to Jesus, look at where this message of the wise men speaks to us.
Today begins the season of Epiphany.
Maybe it is a good time to explore this.