Lectionary Reflections on Epiphany Sunday – January 5, 2014
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Some congregations will choose to celebrate Epiphany Sunday on January 5, using the readings assigned for the feast of the Epiphany. This sets the stage for the expansive spirit of Epiphany. Epiphany affirms that God’s revelation is both global and local, within the Jewish tradition and throughout all creation. Today, we can affirm that Christ is present in all faith traditions as well as in science and the experiences of seekers.
Once again, we hear the story of the magi. It is so familiar that preachers wonder if anything new can be said about these gift-bearing strangers from the East. Yet, the story contains some important theological insights that will surprise and challenge congregants. First, the magi are foreigners, possibly from Iran, a country from which our nation is estranged; the nation that held American diplomats hostage in 1980. God’s revelation comes to outsiders, most likely followers of Zoroaster, and not simply to Jews. God’s revelation may even come to enemies and those we deem beyond the scope of God’s love.
Second, the Jewish religious leaders close their hearts to the revelation, even though it is occurring among their own people. Revelation can come in ways that defy our religious and cultural norms: outsiders can be bearers of revelation. Third, the magi are guided by a star, perhaps, a comet, reminding us that God speaks through the non-human as well as human world. Anything can reveal God’s truth: the heavens above, the flying osprey and eagle, the crawling tortoise, the sporting dolphin, and our own companion animals. The whole earth reveals God’s presence. Science as well as scripture can reveal divine truth. Fourth, God speaks to the magi through dreams (a medium used four times in the first two chapters of Matthew). God speaks through the unconscious as well as conscious mind. Every aspect of our being can become a media for divine revelation.
Finally, the magi “left for their own country by another road.” In response to God’s inspiration, they take an alternative journey. Many of us, as the year begins, are not where we thought we would be. We are dealing with changes in our family, economics, health, and relationships. We are traveling by a different road than we expected. Yet, like the magi, we can experience divine revelation on the alternative – and often challenging pathways – of life.
Isaiah 60 speaks of divine radiance emerging in a challenging time. After a period of darkness, God’s light is coming. God’s light is emerging. But, we need to get up off our feet. We need to greet God’s light actively. Grace leads to action; revelation leads to movement.
Psalm 72 connects the movement of God’s light with justice. We join in God’s light through a corporate commitment to justice-seeking and practices that lift up the vulnerable. In contrast to Herod and his court, political leadership places justice at the center. It listens for God’s call in the marketplace and courtroom, and places the poor on equal standing with the wealthy.
Paul shares a mystery with his Ephesian listeners. God is present in varied ways throughout all creation. The One who brought light to Paul’s darkness, setting him on a holy path as Christ’s messenger is present in a saving way throughout all creation and humankind. The Gentiles and Jews are one, joined organically and spiritually in the body of Christ. God is generous in revelation: God favors all people and all nations. Anyone who seeks God’s care will experience God’s life-changing and saving grace. No one is excluded from mercy and miracle. We can, as a result of Christ’s world-saving presence, come boldly before God in prayer and action.
Today’s readings invite us to a spiritual universalism. God’s global revelation provokes a global quest for justice. In light of God’s grace, we are to be graceful ourselves, and claim that grace by spreading God’s light throughout the whole Earth. Even adversity or changes in our life plan can awaken us to God’s light of salvation and healing. We can experience everyday epiphanies and find God in every season of life and in all sorts of unfamiliar persons and places.