St Bartholomew and All Saints

Royal Wootton Bassett

Dear Friends,

Christmas – Part Two

We three kings of Orient are: bearing gifts we traverse afar:

field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.

In our church cribs or nativity scenes the kings (or wise men or magi, depending on what you’re reading) are usually to be found on Christmas Day jostling for position with the shepherds and the angels. But in the Church’s calendar it isn’t until January 6th, known as the feast of the Epiphany, that Matthew’s much-loved story of the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus is properly remembered. It’s such a well-known story, and I don’t know about you, but most of my Christmas cards this year featured its leading men. But it’s an unsettling story too.

In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence there is an unfinished painting by Leonardo da Vinci depicting the Adoration of the Magi. Mary, the young Jesus and the magi are pictured in a rather depressing and threatening landscape. The buildings look deserted and run-down; the riders are struggling to control their terrified horses; and passers-by ignore what’s going on. It’s all rather gloomy. And the detail around Matthew’s story is no less gloomy. He has a ruler, Herod, intent on maintaining his authority, ready to spill innocent blood if that is what it will take, and forcing families to flee their homes and country as a consequence.

 Matthew, Leonardo too perhaps, wanted to remind their audience that Christ was born into a world that had gone wrong, a world that desperately needed the light. Then out of the blue ride the wise men, heathen strangers, who relied on nature and searched the stars. They understood what God was up to, travelled for a long time and over a huge distance, and came to worship and adore this new-born who promised so much.

The end of the year, and the beginning of a new one, is a complex time. Certainly, the news we awoke to this morning, the images we are presented with on the front pages of our papers, require our serious attention and prayers. The challenges of the world at the end of 2017 are not to be ignored or belittled. What the new year promises – abroad and at home – may well daunt us.

Just like the wise men we come to this new year with our questions and fears. But we come too with our hearts full of hope… full of the possibility of new beginnings and fresh adventures. And as we do so we trust that Emmanuel, God with us, is our companion on the journey.

Canon Jane Curtis