Monday, December 27, 2021

January 6, 2022 - Epiphany

                                                          Biblical Words                                             [751]

Isaiah 60:1-6;  Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14;  Ephesians 3:1-12;  Matthew 2:1-12.

 Epiphany is about a brilliant light coming into the world for all the nations.   

Christmas, especially as presented by Luke, celebrates the humble and poor in God’s salvation for Israel. 

Epiphany, on the other hand, glorifies the royalty of God’s servant, whose righteousness and power shine like a beacon light for all the nations. 

Isaiah 60:1-6.  

Epiphany is about light shining, and the great Isaiah passage of Epiphany summons Zion to shine with the reflected light from God’s “dawning” upon her.  (The verb and noun “dawn” appear three times in 60:1-3, translated in NRSV as “risen” and “will arise” as well as “dawn.”)  This light is to shine in a darkness, deep darkness that enshrouds the peoples of the world, the nations (“gentiles”). 

This is a breathtaking view, a vast panorama exceeding a Disney World laser-light spectacular.  [The last one of these I saw may have been in the 20th century!]

Here is the scene:  all the world is a vast black space when a piercing light cuts through from the east and illumines a glorious city on an elevated summit (see Isaiah 2:2).  The city on the hill shines for all the distant lands that have only that brilliant glow to guide them as they move to redistribute the wealth of all the world according to new priorities, now manifest as the righteousness and peace of the Lord of all creation.  The great light that shines on Zion attracts all the wealth and glory from among the nations, and as they bring the wealth toward the center, they also bring the dispersed sons and daughters of the mother city now restored to her glory. 

Among the tribute flowing to Zion from Midian, Sheba, Kedar, and the like, are gold and frankincense.  Such gifts constitute “the praise of the Lord” from the nations. 

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14.  

The Psalm selection also focuses on the tribute and enrichment from the nations, but now the emphasis is on God’s rule through an anointed king instead of the glory of God’s city.  

The psalm is a prayer uttered on behalf of God’s king by the king’s people.  (Early Christians probably chanted it on behalf of their newly risen and enthroned King.  See allusions to Psalm 72 in Matt. 2:11 and Luke 1:48 and 68.)  Its superscription says the psalm is “for Solomon,” that is, for “the Son of David.” 

In the prayer the king is seen as the source of blessing for the whole natural realm, producing “prosperity” (shalom) for the people and rain and showers for the earth (verses 3 and 6).  

More especially is the king the source of justice and righteousness for the poor and oppressed of God’s people (verses 2 and 7).  The tribute prayed for from the kings of Tarshish and Sheba is deserved because “he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper” (verse 12).  He redeems the poor from oppression and violence, “and precious is their blood in his sight” (verse 14). 

This is the kind of rule by the Son of David that will attract the devotion of the nations and cause them to stream to God’s city with gifts and new orientations of their power and wealth! 

Ephesians 3:1-12.  

The Epistle selection is an instance of a passage too rich to be exhausted in a lectionary reading.  The thread that is relevant to Epiphany, however, is “the mystery of Christ” – a mystery that concerns the Nations.  (“Gentiles” in both Hebrew and Greek [as well as Latin] means “nations.”)  

The “mystery” is that the true congregation (church) of God’s people is not confined to the people of Israel, but is destined from of old to include the nations.  It is these nations who are here told about the mystery:  “…[T]hat is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (verse 6).  Through the gospel that Paul proclaims, these nations are being brought in from the distant lands to share in the blessings that God’s King has brought to those who turn (repent) and reorient their lives toward the rule of God. 

The conclusion of this line of thought is that it is revealed to the heavenly powers themselves that the nations are joined with Israel in the church of Jesus Christ, “so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (verse 10). 

The multi-ethnic and multi-cultural church of Jesus Christ is a revelation to the heavenly beings themselves!

Matthew 2:1-12.  

The exalted language and imagery of the message about the nations used in the previous readings is left behind by the Gospel reading for Epiphany, the visit of the Magi.  

Here a series of simple circumstances are related very concisely.  We do not even hear about these magoi while they are still in the east, but they simply appear in Jerusalem and say, Where is the king?  Here there is no fanfare or spectacular laser light show; only some ambassador types trying to get local directions in order to make an appearance in a very modest court.  Where the prophets and the psalmists exulted in pyrotechnic language to refer to worldly realities that were in fact rather modest, here the divine aura behind the simple events is significantly understated. 

The coming of these men from the east causes a great stir in the royal court in Jerusalem.  We hear how King Herod has his experts consult the Israelite scriptures predicting the birth of a great king.  This present king, dedicated to the ways of this world, is guided by fear rather than faith (verse 3).  He uses the scriptures and the good intentions of the genuine seekers to plot a violent attack on the promised one, rather than being guided in the giving of royal gifts and reverence for the coming reign of God. 

The narrative presents without special emphasis that the visitors from the east are lofty representatives of the nations of the world, come to find the secret king whose coming changes the whole world.  Here tribute from the nations is presented in an utterly unassuming way.  The modesty and the secrecy of the real identity and destined work of God’s saving King are preserved.  Only those with special wisdom (knowing the “mystery”) are aware of the cosmic import of what has happened and know how to conduct themselves accordingly. 

Their welfare and their secret are preserved by God, in spite of Herod’s plots, and these sages “left for their own country by another road” (verse 12). 

The light which Epiphany is about had come into the world, and only a few knew it. 

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