Posts Tagged 'Isaiah 60:1-9'

For Jan. 6, 2013: Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 60:1-6, 9

Isaiah, writing about seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, addresses Jerusalem: though she lies in ruins, the glory of the Lord has risen like daybreak! From all corners of the earth, from all of our own personal Babylons, all God’s children—all of us—shall stream home, whether or not Jerusalem was ever home, bringing wealth by the shipload and camel-caravan load in praise and thanks to the Lord.

The Response            Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

The Epistle            Ephesians 3:1-12

There are riches, and then there are riches. Isaiah and the Psalmist told us of righteousness streaming out from Jerusalem and material wealth streaming in. It falls to Paul, writing from prison to the Gentile church in far-off Ephesus, to explain: all that abundance from all the world is merely the thank-you for the gift beyond price, extended to all peoples, of salvation through Christ Jesus.

The Gospel            Matthew 2:1-12

 

Further thoughts

The readings for Epiphany are practically incandescent: not now the hushed and heart-melting glow of Mary’s tiny son in the straw, but Isaiah’s blazing light as a beacon for all nations, the psalmist’s righteousness and deliverance in the very hills and mountains, the dazzling insight given Paul of God’s plan for salvation, and of course the Star whose refulgence captures us if, like the eastern mages, we care to look and follow.

But Epiphany, unlike Christmas, reminds us that there is also darkness and that it is deep. That people are alienated from their homes and, ultimately, from each other is news neither to Isaiah nor to us. That the poor and lowly are merely the most afflicted by oppression, violence, poverty, and misuse of power was as evident to the psalmist in the ninth century before Christ’s birth as it is to us in the third millennium after. That rulers and authorities are badly in the dark was as clear to Paul as it is to any 21st century student of current events. And that terrified or even indignant rulers resort to dark deeds in order to maintain power is no less evident in the organized religion’s history of inquisitions, intifadas, and cover-ups than it is when Herod sends troops to massacre the boy babies of Bethlehem lest one of them grow up to challenge his right to his throne.

Thrones, even in a 21st-century democracy, are common. Though I’ve made a point of avoiding obvious ones, I find I occupy many: as parent, as customer, as teacher or assessor, as person who determines a budget or a schedule, even as driver in possession of right-of-way. I am aware of the temptation to occupy those little thrones like Herod—not I hope, to the extent of degrading someone simply because I could, but it’s hard to resist barking an order, delivering a snub or put-down, downplaying someone else’s gifts (or my own), even resisting the healing or the oversight I need.

The darkness, in short, is not just Out There, it is In Here, and Herod is my brother.

The Light that judges and redeems and heals and loves is thus not only for the Gentiles as well as the Jews but for the Herods out there as well as the ones in here. And it calls me to spend less time finger-pointing and more time following.

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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