Friday 6 / Sunday 8 January 2017 - The Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ / Te Whakaaturanga
Revelation to the Gentiles
The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight is coming, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:1b.
God the source of all insight,
you gave the wise men the sign of a star
Give us the focus and perseverance of those who travel far to encounter Jesus.
Give us wisdom to discern and follow all that points to him.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Psalm 72:1-7 10-14
In the lead-up to this passage from Isaiah, the prophet has been speaking of how lost the people of Israel have become in choosing to live in ways of injustice, oppression, idolatry, corruption, and false worship. Because of their choices ‘…justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness’ (59:9).
Also weaving throughout, however, is the promise that God will save his people, that God will guide and feed, forgive and redeem (58-59).
In these verses from Isaiah 60 this promise is announced has having arrived. ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Darkness shall cover the earth, and think darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you’ (60:1-2). (Words Handel so powerfully set to music.) Nations and kings, sons and daughters will gather together and there will be great joy because abundance and wealth will come, from the sea and from the nations. And a foretaste of the wise men can be found in verse 6 where it is told that camels shall come bringing gold and frankincense…
There should be no surprise in all of this. Way back in Genesis 12 God had promised Abraham that he would become a great nation through whom the families of the world will be blessed. God’s redemptive vision has always been for everyone – Jews and Gentiles.
In this passage, epiphany – a moment of realisation or revelation – is effected by God; an unequivocal declaration is made of the Lord’s redemptive work for Israel and for all.
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
This psalm is labelled ‘of Solomon,’ who during his reign grew Israel’s influence and connection with many different countries.
It is the closing psalm in the group labelled ‘Book II,’ which tend to be psalms of David – perhaps mentioned in verse 1 as the ‘king’ and Solomon as the ‘king’s son.’
It is worth checking commentators’ understandings as to how much this psalm is looking forward to Christ. While Solomon did himself pray for wisdom (1 Kings 3:9), brought prosperity to Israel (Ps 72:3), received tribute from many, including the Queen of Sheba (v10), and had peaceful dominion over a large land area (v8; cf 1 Kings 4:20-34), decisions he made privileged foreign gods, enslaved his own people, and during the reign of his son split the kingdom, beginning significant decline (1 Kings 11:1-13).
This reality suggests that another kingdom’s reign is foreshadowed here, one that will bring true flourishing – righteousness, justice and peace – for all the peoples, and particularly for those who are poor, needy and oppressed (cf Luke 1:46-55; 4:18-19).
In this passage, Paul is speaking of a revelation – an epiphany – that he himself received from God, namely that ‘Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’ (Eph 3:6).
So, arching across the biblical narrative from God’s promise to Abraham (arguably seeded in Genesis 1:26-31 when humanity is made in God’s image and for relationship, cf Eph 3:9), we now have final, firm confirmation of God’s care for his people – who include Jews and Gentiles – an ‘eternal purpose…carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (v11).
While nativity plays would suggest that the events of this passage happened soon after the birth of Christ the reality is that it most likely happened closer to two years later – why else would Herod insist all baby boys under two be killed? (v16)
Wise men from the East’ (we are not given a specific number) arrive in Jerusalem asking after the ‘child who has been born king of the Jews’ (vv1-2; cf 27:29). This is intriguing. Pagan men – Magi or astrologers, most likely from the court of the king of Persia – desire to offer faithful homage. The original Star Trek (as one person has put it) is an epiphany – a revelation from God – experienced not by Jews but Gentiles practising arts of star gazing.
While the wise men have reacted in curiosity and faith evidencing endurance (they have travelled far), Herod and ‘all Jerusalem’ are frightened (v3). This contrast offers us challenge: When God-truth is revealed to those from beyond our own cultural community, and even beyond the Christian faith, what will be our response? Are we open to receiving insightful observations on our own faith identity and understanding from others?
For a second and not the last time in this gospel Matthew, whom scholars agree was writing to an audience of Jewish believers, recalls words from the Hebrew scriptures (Micah 5:2) to help underscore the significance of Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy. From Bethlehem was to ‘come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel’ (v6). A small town but ‘by no means the least.’ Contrasts of great and least, fear and faith, and soon truth and falsehood, joy and terror abound in this passage and verses immediately beyond.
Herod sends the wise men forth on a lie. They are to search for the child and then let him know so he can ‘pay him homage’ (v8) also. But Herod will be foiled by God. Yet again in the birth narrative the Lord will give instruction via a dream (cf 1:20; 2: 13, 19), in this case, in verse 12, telling the men to head home via a different road. Stars…dreams…Jews…Gentiles…epiphanies from God know no boundaries.
The star stops over the place where the child is. It is a house, not a palace. But the wise men enter with joy, kneel as one would only to a king, and pay him homage. If Persian, their homage is significant coming from a court where their king traditionally called himself the ‘king of kings’ (cf Ezra 7:12; Dan 2:37). God’s revelation, via a star and now in person, transcends all human power and notions of grandeur.
It is worth noting that ‘homage’ will appear three times in this passage – twice in truth from the pagan wise men (vv2, 11) and once in falsehood from the Jewish king Herod (8).
The wise men offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (cf Isa 60:6; Ps 72:10). Gold for a king. Frankincense for a deity. Myrrh for death. Prophetic and true gifts. Revelation from Gentiles arising from a revelation to the Gentiles.