Slideshow image

You have heard it said, “it takes a village to raise a child”. On this most joyous occasion of Hudson’s baptism, I’d like to suggest an amendment to that saying. I’d like to suggest that it takes a global village to raise a child.

This morning we have the privilege of welcoming into the household of Christ, the newest member of the Joyce family. Hudson is presented this morning by his parents, Nadine (from New Zealand) and Graeme (from Canada), and two sets of godparents: James and Gemma, also from New Zealand, and Sachi and Rob, also from Canada. Undergirding the support of Hudson’s sponsors is the love of his grandparents, his aunties and uncles, cousins, his St Clement’s family, and last, but certainly not least, his sister, and rival famous Canadian body of water, Mackenzie. 

That it takes a global village to raise a child is something I suspect the wise men knew—or at least had an inkling about—when they went to pay homage to the newborn king. Tradition holds that the wise men came from three different countries: Iran, Ethiopia, and India. In Western Christian tradition, they are given names—Balthasar who brings the gift of myrrh; Melchior, who offers gold; and Caspar, frankincense. What exactly the wise men did by way of work to be able to afford such extravagant gifts is up for debate: some say they were astrologers or magicians; others, Zoroastrian priests—an ancient Persian clan. 

Whoever they were and whatever they did, the wise men were learned, people of faith from around the world. They were known and chosen in their communities to uphold the traditions of their people. They were seen as model examples. They were akin to the aunties and uncles—or the godparents, to whom Mary and Joseph might later direct their rambunctious, boy-child, or their impossible, argumentative teenager.

But, apart from their knowledge, or their wealth, or their ability to remember the Christ-child’s birthday, what the wise men brought that was of utmost importance, was their folly. New Testament scholar Aaron M. Gale writes that early readers of the Epiphany story may have regarded these holy visitors not as wise but as foolish. He points to a story in the Old Testament about a man named Balaam. Balaam is on his way to meet a wicked ruler who wants to harm the people of God. An angel appears, while Balaam is on the road, to prevent him, but Balaam doesn’t see the angel. His donkey does, though, stopping dead in its tracks, refusing to go any further. Balaam pulls on the reins, gives the donkey a good shove, doing everything in his power to move it along, but no luck. 

Finally, God opens the mouth of the donkey so it can speak! Balaam has a conversation with the donkey right there and then—the laughingstock of anyone who passed by! It’s not until Balaam’s eyes are opened that he, too, sees the angel.

The story goes that Balaam refuses the gifts of the evil ruler. He blesses rather than curses the people of God and, despite being known in the village as the man who thought his donkey could talk, he is upheld by God as an example of great faith. 

Greek philosophers will later use the word “magos” to describe Balaam, a word we’ve come to associate with the wise men. It’s where we get “magi” and “magic” from. And, as we’ve seen in the story of Balaam and the story about the wise men who go looking for Jesus, it’s their folly that helps them find their way, their downright silliness, you might say—in talking to a donkey and wishing upon a star!

At the end of Balaam’s story, Balaam chooses, as the wise men will do, to return to his country by another road. Balaam, the wise men, having encountered the One who will build a kingdom greater even than gold, frankincense, or myrrh, look evil in the eye and go a different way. 

At the heart of the Epiphany story we celebrate this morning is a question: Where is the child? Herod doesn’t know—and he has all of the answers the world can buy! Where is the child? The wise men know; you all know; Hudson knows, because the saviour of the world isn’t found in palaces or grown-up conversation; he’s found in child’s-play, where freedom is in the not-yet-knowing; where a seat at the tiny feet of God is given not through power and might, but wonder and joy. Amen.