Reading Ramblings – January 8, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Epiphany Sunday, January 7, 2017

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

Context: Christmas and Epiphany are two individual festivals in the liturgical cycle, though the week between the two is considered part of the season of Christmas. The two form two halves of the life of Jesus, which the liturgical calendar will spend the next five months fleshing out. Christmas emphasizes the humanity of Jesus and Epiphany emphasizes his divinity. The two natures of Christ, bound together inexplicably to form our Savior and Redeemer. True man and True God. To lose either aspect of this unique person is to fly off into heresy. To emphasize one aspect unduly over the other is to fly off into heresy. We affirm what the Word of God tells us, but to say too much more – or less – than this leads us into error, well-intentioned or otherwise. It is best to simply focus on what we are told, that Jesus of Nazareth is not only truly human but truly divine.

Isaiah 60:1-6 – These words from Isaiah are chosen for Epiphany because they emphasize the divinity of Jesus, the “glory of the Lord” that has risen upon creation in his birth. In the midst of darkness – the literal darkness of sin and depravity as well as the dark of night, the Son of God comes into the world, the radiance and glory of God reveals itself in the unlikely face of a newborn baby boy. Kings will be drawn to that light we are told in verse 3, leading us to remember not just the magi who visited from before perhaps as emissaries of a foreign king (also remembered in v.6 with frankincense), but also our Lord’s promised return, when every knee shall bend and tongue confess that He is Lord of all. Verse 4 places our eyes and vision alongside the Lord’s, watching the assemblage of all people and nations to give him honor and glory. We are included in this multitude. We will enjoy the blessings of Christ in that day of his return. We will rejoice with all of his people from every time and place as we see his victory.

Psalm 72:1-11 – If this psalm sounds familiar it’s for good reason – it was used a month ago for the Second Sunday of Advent. I continue to marvel that with 150 psalms available, we somehow find ourselves repeating the same ones and in so short a time frame! This is a royal psalm likely utilized at the coronation of a king of Judea. It prays for the newly anointed king that God would grant him the Lord’s righteousness and justice, that the king might do for God’s people what God himself wishes to be done to his people. The king is an extension of the will and power of God, and is faithful only insofar as God’s revealed will is the king’s command. This is not an attempt to legitimize the authority of a king in whatever manner he chooses to act, but to link the role and duty of the king inseparably with the divine will and rule of God. The king is to convey the blessings of God to the people of God – right judgment and the defense of the marginalized. For this the king should be honored and praised. Enemies of such a king should rightly be defeated and made to give him honor. A king who truly honors the will and purpose of God deserves to rule as much as possible. As such, in reciting this psalm during a coronation, the people and the king himself are called to look forward towards the day when a perfect king should come and accomplish perfectly what the current king will accomplish only temporarily and imperfectly. In a moment of hope and promise, our eyes are directed forward to a yet-unseen heir to this throne and dominion. Not in a limited national sense, but in a cosmic sense over all creation. This is a good psalm to recite and remember during our own transfer of power in the Presidential inauguration ceremony!

Ephesians 3:1-12 – The blessings of God in his Incarnate Son are intended for everyone, for all of creation not just a select few. The early Church struggled to come to grips with this. Jesus did not come only for the Jews, but through the Jews and for the Jews first He came, and then for the world. This is what God has always intended, from his promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15 to his initial promises to Abram in Genesis 12. God has worked through a particular people to bring a particular person into the world, who is not merely another man but also the divine and eternal Son of God, for the express purpose of redeeming all of creation.

Matthew 2 – While the lectionary specifies only the first 12 verses of this chapter, I think the whole chapter should be read. If it is difficult to believe that a baby boy could also be the divine Son of God, this chapter helps us to see that more is afoot than what meets the eye. His importance is attested to in the arrival of magi or wise men from the east, who come to honor him according to the importance attributed to him by Hebrew Scriptures. God’s own people fail to read the signs properly, but these foreigners read them correctly and act accordingly. Herod, the pseudo-Jewish Roman king, confers with his own counselors regarding Scripture and the birth of a baby. But they see no significance in this, and Herod sees only the necessities of himself and his offspring.

God is still at work in all of this. The wise men are warned not to return and give further details to Herod, and they obey. Joseph receives another dream from God, and is warned to flee with his small family to Egypt. Joseph hears and obeys again. But Herod and his advisers seek the Word of God not for obedience. Herod does not desire to fall down and worship this newborn king – a direct threat to his own rule and the anticipated rule of his children after him. He desires to eliminate a rival, even a rival that the Jews themselves don’t really see as all that important. The Magi listen and live. Joseph listens and his family lives. Herod ignores God’s Word (such as the commandment against murder!), and people die. How many young boys die in Bethlehem because of Herod’s fear and hatred? We aren’t told. Bethlehem was a small town, so perhaps only a few dozen. But these are the first martyrs of the faith. They do not seek it or understand it, but they die because of the Christ child, just as surely as Stephen will die because of him 30-some years later.

God made man and come among us is a source of division. Jesus warned his disciples in John 16-17 that they would be hated because the world hates Jesus, and because the world does not know God the Father. Christians throughout history and around the world have encountered the brutal reality of this warning over and over again, losing respect, wealth, influence, freedom, and even their lives for clinging to the Son of God born, died, buried, resurrected and ascended. The enduring hatred of the world first for God’s chosen people the Jews, and for his followers in faith, the Christians, is a continuing fulfillment of Jesus’ words and warning, and itself a testimony to how much is at stake in terms of the Biblical witness.

If Jesus is who He claims to be – the very Son of God made man – and accomplishes what He claims to accomplish – the forgiveness of sins for those who trust in his perfect obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection, then everything in all of creation and history is changed and transformed. Our lives have real meaning and consequence not just temporarily but eternally. Such a possibility can be responded to in hate and fear or trust and joy, but there is no room in between. The person who does not fall into one of these two reactions has not really heard the message, doesn’t really understand the implications for themselves and everyone around them.

The light has come into the darkness, and the darkness has not and will not overcome it.

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