13th January 2023

Emmanuel, God with us all.

Do you wonder about those parts of the Bible we never read in church – nor yet at home either. I suspect that the opening verses of Matthew’s gospel come into that category – all those ‘begats’. But the list is interesting even if at the end of the day Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, a factor which caused St Augustine to construct another genealogy to show that Mary too was of ‘David’s line’. But read the list carefully and you will find four women in the list, three Gentiles and another formerly married to a Gentile, for whose dispatch David was responsible. So the New Testament opens with a lesson in family history, which underlines that non-Jews are an essential part of God’s arrangement for our salvation.

Matthew’s account then contrasts the wisdom of the wise men of the East, wholly ignorant of Jewish prophetic perceptions, with that of the wise men of Jerusalem. In the East, God sets a star in the heavens that will lead astrologers to be present at Christ’s birth, bearing gifts which show clearly their understanding of his earthly mission. ‘Where is he who is born to be king of the Jews?’ they ask. No question could have been more pointed, for Herod had secured his throne, not by birth but by political machinations. Now the wise men of Jerusalem, scribes and priests, read their scriptures accurately, but failed to act upon them, a failure which led to death, rather than the welcoming of new life, leading to Egypt, once the land of slavery becoming the place of salvation for the Christ child.

The third incident stressing the universal embrace of the incarnation comes with the blessing of Simeon, one of Jerusalem’s pensioner saints, who speaks of the infant Jesus as ‘a light to lighten the Gentles’, to stress that the coming of the Messiah is not for the Jews only, but for all people. Proclaiming that message is the work Christ’s church must be about, remembering that Jesus made it quite clear that his family of the new Israel knew no limits.

John Briggs