In the second half of the first century, a church had formed, probably in or near Rome, around a man we call St Matthew. This church was composed of a mixture of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Matthew’s task was to ensure that these two parts of his community were able to talk to one another and to form a coherent, integrated church.
The story of the visit of the Magi is very a important illustration of how Matthew seeks to achieve this. These Magi, astrologers from a far-off country have travelled for many weeks, across a thousand miles of desert, based only on the data they gathered from the stars. They came to see a king: the greatest king ever to be born on the Earth.
The heavens give up their secrets only reluctantly, however, so they arrived in Jerusalem and needed some clearer directions. They turned to the Jewish authorities, the king and the Scribes. People who knew the Jewish scriptures, people who had been living with the promise of the Messiah for centuries.
The Jewish scholars knew exactly where the Messiah was to be born. It was there, in their books. Did they go and dirty their feet, though? Did they go just a few miles out of their way to see God keep his promise? To see Heaven stoop down and touch the Earth?
They did not.
These pagans from a far off land were the first to visit the Holy Family in Matthew’s Gospel. People not from God’s chosen race, but gentiles. Gentiles who had given up time and money to come, on a long and dangerous journey into territory occupied by Rome, to see a newborn baby. They couldn’t even enter discourse with him about the higher points of theology. They couldn’t speak with him about God, salvation or even the price of fish in Jerusalem. He lay in his crib and peered at them with the wide eyes of the newborn, as they gave him gifts fit for a king.