Podcast: 8 September 2020

Welcome to Tuesday’s Podcast

Our reading today is Matthew 2:1-12 but today we’ll focus on verse 1-2:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”


It seems weird to be reading these passages at the start of September.  For good or bad we tend to only read about them at Christmas.  The story of the wise men is a particular favourite at Children’s nativities.  The crown slipping off the child’s head as they wander to the stage and whoever speaks does so in a posh ‘royal’ type voice.  Here’s the thing – by doing that we’ve caricatured & sanitised this deeply powerful and prophetic story of magi, the wise men, and lost some of its deeply significant meaning.

So what, if anything, can Matthew’s account of the arrival of these 3 magi – wise men as we’ve come to know them – have anything to say to us as we navigate 2020?

It says something directly about racism.

Not only has 2020 brought us a global pandemic but on the 25 May 2020 George Floyd Jr died after Derek Chauvin, a Police Officer from the Minneapolis Police department, knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds during an arrest.  For the final two minutes Floyd lay facedown motionless.  The officers called for medical assistance but offered none themselves.  Chauvin kept his knee on his neck as the Ambulance crews arrived. A second autopsy confirmed he had died by ‘mechanical asphyxia’.  Those chilling words ‘I can’t breathe’ became a heart cry.

America erupted.  We saw some of the worst racial tensions since the 1960s.  Floyd’s death revealed yet again historic & systemic injustice made significantly worse by the way COVID19 had affected poor minority communities more than others.

Social commentators said at the time that George Floyd’s death brought into public conversation this idea of ‘White Privilege’ – a bias – that the system is rigged towards white people, meaning that if you’re a person of colour – you’re facing a tougher, deeper battle to get on with life just because of the colour of your skin.

And honestly, it was a bit of a wake up moment for the church.  It highlighted that there were people in our congregations that had lived through – or are living through – discrimination that we don’t know anything about.  Silent, hidden but very real.  It was a time when many churches suddenly said – we need to do something – we need to work for change.

The thing is that the Magi, these so called wise men, were astrologers & astronomers – in those days the two were combined and their role was to interpret the signs of the times. They made had a huge amount of wealth doing it.  They had seen a sign in the sky and set off to look for the king Jesus.  In the ancient world the belief was that what was happening on earth was reflected in the skies and vice versa.  The big infamous star that guided them was most probably an astrological event – Jupiter (the Royal planet) and Saturn (representing the Jews) lined up in conjunction.  Their arrival in Jerusalem would have caused a great stir and a real headache for Herod the Great.

We know the rest of the story – we’ve read it before or we’ve lived through the school productions.   Herod the Great (the baddy) tries to trick them but they find Jesus and bring him the legendary gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As a white middle aged man as I read this story I’m tempted to be moved by their worship of Jesus – it’s really powerfully prophetic.  I might (in this current climate – which we’ll talk more about tomorrow) look at the toxic controlling political leadership of Herod.  But if 2020 screams anything to us – it’s this – these Magi, wise men – were non Jewish.  They were gentiles.  And in a world of deep division, racism and segregation where Jewish Rabbis would recite this blessing each morning: ‘Thank God I am not a gentile, a woman or a slave’ – it’s deeply, deeply prophetic that some of the first visitors to come and worship Jesus were from modern day Iraq.  They were from the East.  They were outside of the covenant.

Just let that sink in a moment.

Jesus was born into a deeply racially divided society.

Racism is a sin.  Sin separates us from God but also separates us from each other.  We’re made in the image of God and racism undermines that.

Read the scriptures and we’ll see that in the cross of Jesus – the dividing barrier is broken between God and us, and us and us.

Therefore we work towards eradicating racism.

So, okay – what do we do?

Firstly we talk to some people who this affects deeply.  This moment has given some people – perhaps for the first time – the opportunity to speak out about their experiences of racism.  You can listen to some podcasts & books.  I can recommend Ben Lindsay’s ‘We need to talk about race’ or if you’re into Podcasts ‘Of Saints and Sorrows’ – by Golibe Omenaka, a Nigerian Brit who did Law at Sheffield Uni, now living in California.

Secondly, we need to confront it around us and within us.  We need to ask the Spirit of God to search our hearts – is there bias in me?  Is there racism?  Let’s open our hearts to God.  Do I treat people differently?  Do we need to repent and say to the Lord we’re sorry about stuff?  And will we confront racism when we see it and will we commit to making our communities a place where people of colour can thrive?


Father we pray that we will work for justice – to confront racism.  Root it out in our lives, our church and our community.


BIBLE READING: Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.