On this feast of the Epiphany, we see how the Christ child fulfils the promise of salvation echoed throughout the Old Testament.
‘The nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness.’ Isaiah pictures Jerusalem in his day with all the surrounding nations drawn to it by the glory of God there. Beneath his words, we can detect the idea that the glory of God will draw all nations and peoples on earth. Humanity is at one with God. Jerusalem and Israel/Judah are elected as a chosen people for a reason – to be a light to all the nations. God’s choice of the particular, the individual, is always a sign of God’s respect for our humanity. The people are chosen to be a conduit, a channel of love to invite the whole of humanity into the Divine encounter. It is Isaiah’s genius and contemplative vision to express an insight into this process: ‘the nations (that is, all humanity) come to your light.’!
Israel is chosen by covenant and ethnicity to do away with the idea of exclusivity in favour of universality and total inclusion. God wishes to include the whole of humanity in the story of Israel. It will end and begin in Christ – an explosion which envelops the whole of heaven and earth. But there are echoes of that explosion to be found throughout the Old Testament. Isaiah witnesses to this broader theme. Jerusalem is a light to all the nations: ‘your heart throbbing and full.’
The Ephesians hear how the mystery of dialogue has indeed now ‘been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets… it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Christ Jesus, through the gospel.’ Paul has come to the universal nature of the dialogue unleashed by Christ, exploded to universe-sized proportions and pre-echoed by Isaiah. The task for Christians now in a plural world is to reassert the older, most traditional sense of God’s mission, as it dawned upon Paul and is reflected in the earliest Church writers: the whole of humanity shares in the same body, receives the same promise. It is not a question of converting anyone but of entering into a true dialogue with all humanity that it recognises itself as a partner in the dialogue with God. And to rejoice that all creation is destined to be so included! This is the mystery which is revealed to Paul.
In Matthew, wise men come from the east to find the Christ child. Here is the fulfilment echoed as universal by the Old Testament writers. They signalled its inclusivity by telling of Ruth the Moabitess, Jonah on his recalcitrant way to the good people of Nineveh, Job the holiest man on earth – from the desert of Uz – all the eloquent witnesses now to the wise men from the east. Israel and the Israelite Jesus now are revealed as the particular agents of the Word and Spirit of God addressed to the whole of humanity.
The wise men return to their own country ‘by a different way’. We do not know if they became Christians ever! Unlikely and it does not matter. They were worshippers of the good, the holy and the true. We hold them dear. Wise men and women exist in every nation, culture, religion. Our different ways bring us and them nearer to the mystery which is God.