When members of my family introduce someone, they always give that person an automatic promotion. If she’s a doctor, they will exaggerate, introducing her as a brilliant surgeon. A teacher’s aide becomes a full professor. I am told that I do the same thing, even after ten years of living in New England, the land of understatement.
Matthew is not the first one to imagine three rich wise guys from the East coming to Jerusalem. His story line and plot come from Isaiah 60, a poem recited to Jews in Jerusalem about 580 b.c.e. These Jews had been in exile in Iraq for a couple of generations and had come back to the bombed-out city of Jerusalem. They were in despair.
While vacationing in Orlando, Florida, my wife and I visited the “Terminator 2 Show” at Universal Studios. We entered the studio and received special 3-D glasses. When we peered through the glasses, the length and width of the images on the movie screen were deepened and our experience enhanced.
When I think of the Christmas story, I see the crèche that was displayed each year in the front hall of my family home. The manger scene began to take shape during the last week of Advent, when we cut fragrant pine branches and spread them on the hall table, then placed figurines of oxen and cows in the center. Mary and Joseph took their places amid the creatures.
John the Baptist’s fiery call to repentance sounds harsh when we’re in the midst of preparations for the baby Jesus. The birth of a child is usually preceded by joyful expectation. But the child envisioned by John will come with an axe, with a winnowing fork and with purging flame.