At Christmas, God’s word “became flesh,” in the language of John’s Gospel (John 1:14). Epiphany proclaims the significance of that moment for humankind. Today’s readings from the book of Isaiah and the book of Psalms show that such moments of revelation have long been part of the biblical tradition, punctuating the experience of Israel and, by extension, of the church. The Epistle to the Ephesians takes up the Epiphany theme that the disclosure of Jesus as the Christ, meaning Anointed, is to all the world. Meanwhile the Gospel reading of the day from the book of Matthew recounts the story of wise astronomers who journey from the east to Judea, attracted by hints of the glory that is to be revealed.
The First Reading
God’s Victory over Chaos Glorifies the Holy City, Zion
The prophet Isaiah calls to Israel’s holy city, Zion, announcing victory and calling for celebration. Conquering the chaos that has reigned, the Lord reverses the darkness that has enveloped the world like a storm at sea. In the light of that reversal, Zion gleams. Exiles return, foreign powers take notice, and caravans of tribute arrive at the city gates from far away. Thus the city recognizes and proclaims God’s victory on behalf of God’s people.
for your brightness has come and the Lord’s glorious presence has shined on you.
For, look! The darkness blankets earth—and a cloud, peoples—
but the Lord shines on you and God’s glorious presence is seen on you.
Nations make their way to your brightness and rulers to the brilliance of your shining.
Look up around you and see—they have all gathered, they come to you.
Your sons come from afar and your daughters are made secure at your side.
Then you will see and you will glow; your heart will stand in awe and grow large,
for the pandemonium of the sea will be reversed for you,
the power of nations will come to you.
Hordes of camels will cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah:
all of them will come from Sheba.
They will bear gold and frankincense
and so they will proclaim the Lord’s victory in praise.
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
A Prayer for God’s Righteous Justice in the King
This psalm asks God to endow the people’s leader with righteousness and a compelling vision of justice for all, especially for the poor and oppressed who cannot protect themselves. This is as natural as rain on the land and as long-lasting as the sun and moon. The psalmist prays that all nations will acknowledge this embodiment of God’s righteous justice.
- Of Solomon.
- 1. O God—give your justice to a king;
- your righteousness to a ruler.
- 2. He will judge your people righteously;
- your poor, with justice.
- 3. Let the mountains bring forth well-being for the people;
- the hills, too, through justice.
- 4. May the king bring justice to the poor of the people,
- deliverance to those in need,
- and crush the oppressor.
- 5. May they hold you in awe while the sun shines,
- and before the moon, generation after generation.
- 6. Let the king arrive like rain on cut grass,
- like showers irrigating the land.
- 7. In his day, may the righteous flourish,
- and also abundant well-being, until the moon is no more.
- 10. May the kings of Tarsus and the islands render tribute,
- the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.
- 11. May all the kings bow to him,
- all nations serve him.
- 12. For he saves the needy who cry out for help,
- the poor who have no helper.
- 13. He is compassionate to the poor and needy;
- the lives of the needy he rescues.
- 14. From injury and violence he redeems them;
- their blood is precious to him.
The Second Reading
The Mystery of Revelation
The Epistle to the Ephesians is set in the time of Paul’s imprisonment, following his arrest in Jerusalem. Having appealed to the jurisdiction of the emperor, he was conducted by ship to Rome. Like several of his last letters, the Epistle to the Ephesians was composed—whether by Paul or by one of his community members—against the background of this experience. The main thrust of this letter concerns God’s extension of divine grace to gentiles together with Israel, which makes them one body. The letter proposes that this has always been part of God’s intention.
I, Paul, am a prisoner for Jesus Anointed on behalf of you gentiles—if you have indeed heard the endowment of God’s grace given to me for you. I have written down a part of the mystery made known to me by revelation, so that you can read and comprehend what I understand within the mystery of the Anointed. This was not made known to earlier generations of people as it is now revealed through the message to God’s holy Apostles and prophets in Spirit: that the gentiles are inheritors together, in one body together, participants together in the promise in Jesus Anointed. Of this message I have become a servant by the gift of God’s grace, given to me according to the exercise of his power. To me, the least of all holy servants, this grace was given to convey the message to the gentiles of the unsearchable wealth of the Anointed, and to illuminate what the endowment is—the mystery hidden from the beginning by God, who created everything. So now the multifaceted wisdom of God is made known to the rulers and authorities in the celestial realms—through the church. God made this plan from the beginning in Jesus Anointed, our Lord, in whom we have confidence and access by being confirmed through his faith. For this reason I ask you not to despair over my afflictions for you: they are your glory.
Magi Worship Jesus
Matthew’s Gospel, more than any of the others, presents some of its stories using quotations from the Scriptures of Israel. Micah 5:2, concerning the birth of a ruler who is to come from Bethlehem, validates the wisdom of the magi from the east. In addition, Isaiah 60:5-6, where those from afar lavish offerings in Judea, may stand behind the magi bringing glorious gifts. In this way, Matthew delivers the Epiphany theme of God’s promise to extend divine grace through Israel to the world.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king—then, magi came from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the one born king of the Judeans? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard, he was shaken, and all Jerusalem with him; he gathered all the high priests and scribes of the people and inquired from them where the Anointed would be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written through the prophet: ‘You, Bethlehem, land of Judah—by no means are you least among the governors of Judah, for from you will come the governing ruler, who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the magi covertly, established from them the time the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. He said, “Go on, determine accurately concerning the child, but as soon as you find him, report to me, so that I myself will come to worship him.” They heard the king, went away, and then: the star that they had seen in the east led the way before them, until it came to stand above where the child was. They saw the star and rejoiced—exceptionally great joy. They came to the home and saw the child with Mary, his mother; they fell down and worshipped him, opened their treasures and offered him gifts—gold and incense and myrrh. Having been advised through a dream not to return to Herod, they went away by another route into their land.