Reading Ramblings – January 6, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: January 6, 2013 –
Epiphany Sunday

Texts:
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-11(12-15); Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew
2:1-12

Contextual
Notes:
Although Epiphany is sometimes considered a
separate liturgical season, it is best treated as a transitional
period. Anchored in the season of Christmas, Epiphany Sunday is
either the first or second (middle) actual Sunday of the Christmas
season, with one more week of the Christmas/Epiphany season before we
enter a brief period of Ordinary Time prior to Lent. Together,
Christmas and Epiphany each focus on one aspect of the two natures of
Christ. Christmas focuses us on the reality of his humanity.
Epiphany focuses us on the reality of his divinity. We hold both
equally true at the same time, without mixing or confusing the two,
thereby creating a new, third kind of entity that is neither creator
or creature. This was a major issue for the early Church,
determining how to faithfully talk about the incarnation of the
divine Word of God – and it is very easy to slip off in error by
either downplaying or denying one of his two aspects.

Isaiah 60:1-6 – The
previous chapter of Isaiah (59) is a call to repentance and a stern
warning of the coming power and wrath of God against those who reject
him. Isaiah 59:20 indicates that the Redeemer will come to the house
of Jacob, to those who have repented. There is no explicit statement
before chapter 60 begins saying that repentance has occurred – but
it is implied. 59:21 indicates that the Lord will send his Word to
dwell with his people forever. This is the prelude to chapter 60.

Now the redeemer comes to his people.
But the light of the redeemer dawning in the midst of his people’s
darkness has farther reaching implications than might have been
presumed. He is not just a light to his chosen people, but a light
to all peoples, and people from all over are drawn to that light and
acknowledge the royal nature of that light. It isn’t just that the
exiled people of God are returned home, but they are accompanied by
foreigners bearing gifts. While we can link this easily to the visit
of the magi, this is ultimately more accurately a preview of what
will happen in the final return of Jesus Christ. Once again a
prophet speaks the Word of God that touches on multiple truths across
multiple periods of time, finding final fulfillment in the permanent
dwelling of God with his people that will mark the new heaven and new
earth, reunified under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Psalm 72:1-11(12-15):
The emphasis again here is on the nature of the king who rules. The
kings of God’s people were supposed to be more like regents, with God
as the actual king. They did not govern of their own accord or
desires, but were to ensure that the people of God followed the
commands of God and offered the appropriate sacrifices. This was the
king’s highest duty – and one that all the kings of Israel and
Judah failed in to one degree or another. This is the metric for the
historical evaluation of a given king in historical books such as 1 &
2 Kings or 1 & 2 Chronicles – did the king follow and enforce
the Word of God or not?

As with the Isaiah text, while this is
a royal psalm likely used at the coronation of a new king, it is a
psalm that is ultimately only fulfilled perfectly in the reign of
Jesus Christ. It describes what that perfect reign will look like,
and, like the Isaiah text, makes clear that gifts and submission will
be brought from destinations other than just the people of God. The
optional verses for today (12-15) emphasize the practical things that
mark a king guided by the wisdom and strength of God. We will see
these kingly attributes in Jesus Christ over the course of the rest
of the year’s readings.

Ephesians 3:1-12 –
Paul hammers home in these verses on the inclusion of the Gentiles
in the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not just the Messiah to
the Jewish people, He is the Messiah of the world. While this has
not always been fully disclosed in the prophets of old, by the grace
of the Holy Spirit enlightening and guiding Paul, this truth is being
fully disclosed at last. By the grace of Jesus Christ, all humanity
is offered the opportunity to return to full communion with God the
Father, no longer divided and separated from him by sin or rebellion.
While it seems obvious to us that the Old Testament is constantly
referring to the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan of
salvation, the assumption in Jesus’ and Paul’s day was that the
Gentiles either would not be included, or would be included in a
lesser fashion. Paul argues in passages such as this that the
Gentiles have the same birthright, the same right as heirs to God’s
grace in Jesus Christ as the chosen people of God.

Matthew 2:1-12 –
God’s
people have to be awakened to the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy by
non-Jews from a foreign land. What God’s own people could not see in
their own prophets, others could see quite plainly, and took
appropriate action on. A king has been born. Tribute must be paid.

Or
not. Herod’s response and the response of “all Jerusalem” is not
rejoicing and seeking to bring tribute, but rather uncertainty. They
are “troubled” by this news, rather than comforted. The wisdom
revealed to then in the Old Testament prophets by the power of the
Holy Spirit is also a wisdom that guides the return of the magi
homewards. While others may seek to frustrate the plans of God, this
is not possible! The magi return home by an alternate route,
negating the need to visit Herod in his quarters in Jerusalem. This
saves the infant Jesus’ life, but as Matthew 2:13-18 make clear, not
everyone was spared from Herod’s plans.

The
Son of God is the rightful king of all creation, the only one willing
and able to perfectly obey the Word of God, and in doing so to truly
bring blessing and peace to all peoples and all creation. Naturally,
this will create divisiveness among those who have a stake in the
status quo. Those accustomed to ruling passively or actively through
wealth, influence, alliances and all other manner of techniques will
see the King of Kings for the threat to their way of life that He
really is. While many Christians seem intent on reconciling Jesus to
their particular political or economic ideologies, Jesus comes not to
reinforce one over another, but rather to dispense with all such
ideologies. There will be no opportunity to bribe or co-opt or
otherwise undermine the rule of this one perfect King.

So
our sinful natures will naturally reject his call for submission and
obedience. Whether as alleged rulers of our own hearts, or rulers of
nations, we find ourselves balking at the call for submission,
seeking to secure for ourselves some level of preference in the new
kingdom. We should not be surprised that nations around the world –
and increasingly our own nation – see Christianity and Jesus Christ
as incompatible with their aims and goals. He is incompatible. He
does not come to compete against the powers of the world but to
receive their tributes and offerings.

And
He will receive them! They may not all be joyful or willing, but
they will all be inevitable. When the Kingdom of God is revealed in
fullness and glory, there is only one other kingdom to flee to to
avoid it. Those who choose this other kingdom, thinking thereby to
increase the possibility of their own personal power, will be
tragically and eternally disappointed. That other kingdom has a
ruler already, one who shows the greatest of cruelty and hatred
towards God’s creation. Those who seek to rule in hell will find
that no such option exists. We are creatures of God, and we are
built to serve. We can either serve the master who loves us and
cares for us, or we can sell ourselves into the slavery of the rebel
prince who will spend eternity exploiting our misery for his own
twisted joy.

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