For Jan. 8, 2012: Epiphany

The Reading            Isaiah 60:1-6, 9

As Isaiah writes, about seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Jews who had been deported to Babylon have returned, only to find Jerusalem in ruins and the Temple desecrated. Isaiah calls Jerusalem itself out of darkness and despair: the glory of the Lord will rise like daybreak, and, from all corners of the earth, all God’s children and a great deal else will finally come home to the praise of God.

 

The Epistle            Ephesians 3:1-12

There are riches, and then there are riches. Isaiah and the Psalmist told us of material wealth streaming into Jerusalem, but it falls to Paul, writing from prison to the church at Ephesus, to explain: all that abundance from all the world is merely the thank-you for the gift beyond price of salvation through Christ Jesus.

 

Further thoughts

What a series of images the Epiphany scriptures give us! First, Isaiah shows us Jerusalem, the city of God personified, and the light of God will be there though all else be dark. All the scattered children of God will come together, and kingly riches will arrive by ship and in camel caravan after camel caravan, and even the camels—which, having no hooves, were unclean in Mosaic law and therefore unacceptable before God—will now join everyone and everything else in praising God.

Then the Psalm continues the theme: the King’s Son will rule so righteously that even the mountains and hills bring justice. Kings will pay him tribute, but the heart of this King’s Son will be with the poor, the oppressed, the lowly, and the victims of violence.

But who is this King’s Son? Here we start dealing in paradox. The King’s Son that Matthew shows us is born in a barn in the backwater of Bethlehem to an unwed mother, and about to be in trouble with the local law for the first but not the last time in his life. The brightest minds in Jerusalem, though they pore over the Torah, have no clue that he exists until a group of non-Jews from the pagan East show up asking for directions. That these foreign magi are not deterred by the humbleness of Jesus’ birth is remarkable. But look at the gifts they bring: what baby needs frankincense (which is for God) and myrrh (which is for burial)?

It falls to Paul, sitting in jail yet paradoxically free, to explain the mystery. This Jesus comes to be King as God always intended kingship: not strutting and taking while the little people die, but assuming personal responsibility to the point of dying so that the least of God’s people might live. This willing sacrifice redefines “God’s people”: the chosen race of Abraham is now, at least potentially, the whole human race.

And what of the riches flowing to Jerusalem, and what of the offerings of the magi? All this wealth will arrive not as the tribute that is exacted by a tyrant king but as the outpourings of grateful hearts.

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