by Rev. Antony W. Ball
In the Western Church the Epiphany is usually associated with the visit of the astrologers1 to the Baby Jesus (and in the Eastern Orthodox Church with the baptism of Jesus) and it is celebrated on January 6th in the west and Jan 28th in the east. But what nationality would you assign to all those (including the Baby Jesus Himself) depicted in this painting – obviously black African – which is nearly as absurd as those Victorian paintings which depict Him as blonde-haired and blue-eyed. As a Palestinian Jew, Jesus was presumably of Asian/Mediterranean appearance, with olive-skin, black hair and brown eyes but (as I was trying to explain in my article last month) scripture gives no indication of what He actually looked like and artists must ‘do the best they can’. Sometimes, as may well be the case here, the artists are trying to ‘make a point’ – the point here would be that the Gospel is for Christians of all nationalities. It is just conceivable that the astrologers did come from Africa – scripture only says they were “from the east” but gives no indication of the route they took as they ‘followed the star’.
In increasingly multi-national societies like ours, ethnic differences seem to become ever less significant, but let’s always remember that our Christian faith transcends all ethnic and national boundaries. Ever since the time of St. Paul, Christians have been responding to Jesus’ own great declaration…
Full authority in heaven and on earth has been committed to me.
Go forth therefore and make and make all nations my disciples;
baptize men everywhere in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And be assured, I am with you always, to the end of time”
Mt xxviii 20, NEB
Let’s remember that our faith does not recognise any boundary.
1 or wise men, or kings, depending upon which translation of scripture you happen to be reading, or carol you happen to be singing