Monday, January 28, 2019

Epiphany 4C Readings & Commentaries

Love in 1 Cor 13 is “agape” in Greek, a particular kind of love that is hard to translate into English.  Sacrificial love, perhaps, or the old word “charity.”  It is love that bears all things for the other.

1st Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Our Old Testament reading is the call story of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is young when he receives it, and he shrinks back (who would not at the grand pronouncement God makes to him at the beginning?). The call stories of Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel all contain a similar detail. The Word of God is placed in or on the mouth. Here with a touch, for Isaiah it is the hot burning coal, and for Ezekiel a scroll he is to eat. It symbolizes the internal presence of God’s word in the prophet’s life.  The six verbs of verse 10 are in many ways an outline of the Book of Jeremiah.  In regard to the rebellious nation, God will “pluck up, pull down, destroy and overthrown, and then (re-)build and plant.”

1:4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Psalm 71:1-6
These opening verses of Psalm 71 are an individual’s plea for refuge from enemies.  The familiar image of God as rock and tower (castle) are found here, but also, in verse 6, the image of God as midwife.  This image is hard to see in this translation; the NRSV translation is better:  “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb…”

1     In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
            let me never be ashamed.
2     In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
            incline your ear to me and save me.
3     Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
            you are my crag and my stronghold.
4     Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
            from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5     For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
            my confidence since I was young.
6     I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
       from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
            my praise shall be always of you.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Is any passage of Scripture better known or more heard except perhaps Psalm 23? This is a beautiful passage—Paul at his best.  It is popularly read at weddings, but its original context and intent had nothing to do with marriage.  The Corinthians were a conflicted community.  Paul has been working at this from several angles ever since the letter began.  Finally, at the end of chapter 12, he says, “but strive for the greater gifts.”  Then love is revealed as the greatest of them all.  Love here is “agape” in Greek, a particular kind of love that is hard to translate into English.  Sacrificial love, perhaps, or the old word “charity.”  It is love that bears all things for the other.

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Gospel Reading: Luke 4:21-30
We are joining a story in the middle with this reading. Jesus is in the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth, and has read a passage from Isaiah about proclaiming good news to the poor, release to the captives…the year of the Lord’s favor.  He sits down, and then our reading begins this morning. His commentary on the reading is brief but provocative, in particular that word “today.”  Many take offense.  He seems to be acting more important than they “know” he is. Jesus rubs salt in the wound by talking about the acceptance by God of two Gentiles (see 1 Kings 17:8-16 & 2 Kings 5:1-14).  Jesus is questioning the “special relationship” they believed they had with God.

4:21 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study, with attribution. Bulletin inserts are available. For more info go to our webite.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Epiphany 3C Readings & Commentaries

James Tissot (French, 1836-1902)
Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue
Brooklyn Museum
Here we have Jesus participating in synagogue worship on the pattern of his ancestor Ezra.  

1st Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Our first reading is a portion of the report of the priest Ezra’s reading from the “Book of the Law” (probably the Torah) after the return from Exile in Babylon.  As the story goes on in chapters 9 and 10, the people engage in fasting and confession and renew the covenant with God.  The “Water Gate” was part of the newly rebuilt walls of Jerusalem.  The rite takes place outside the Temple, however, which would not yet have been rebuilt.  This pattern of reading and interpreting of Scripture would continue and become the core of synagogue worship, and would eventually carry over into Christian worship as well.  Nehemiah 8:13-18 is the establishment of the Jewish festival of sukkot, or “booths.”

8:1 All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Psalm 19
The first six verses of Psalm 19 focus on God’s dealings with the creation; verses 7-14 turn to the subject of the Law.  The transition from creation to law has led some to believe this originally was two psalms, but the psalmist seems to be saying that the Law is as natural and necessary for human living as the creation is for the natural world.

1     The heavens declare the glory of God, *
            and the firmament shows his handiwork.
2     One day tells its tale to another, *
            and one night imparts knowledge to another.
3     Although they have no words or language, *
            and their voices are not heard,
4     Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
            and their message to the ends of the world.
5     In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
            it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
            it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
6     It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
       and runs about to the end of it again; *
            nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
7     The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
            the testimony of the Lord is sure
                            and gives wisdom to the innocent.
8     The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *
            the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
9     The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; *
            the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10   More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, *
            sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
11   By them also is your servant enlightened, *
            and in keeping them there is great reward.
12   Who can tell how often he offends? *
            Cleanse me from my secret faults.
13   Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
       let them not get dominion over me; *
            then shall I be whole and sound and innocent of a great offense.
14   Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
       be acceptable in your sight, *
            O Lord , my strength and my redeemer.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Paul has just spoken of the “varieties of gifts but the same Spirit” (12:1-11).  He reiterates that at the beginning of this section.  The Spirit into which we are baptized trumps our ethnic and social differences.  We become one body.  He then takes off on this image of the body to talk about the diversity that does still exist among us.  The body as a metaphor to talk about how the many function as a whole was well known in Paul’s day.  A number of Greco-Roman writers used the metaphor to talk about the functioning of the state.  Paul makes a bold claim here, however: “You are the body of Christ.”  This is beyond metaphor for Paul.  It is a new reality created by baptism.

12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.

Gospel Reading: Luke 4:14-21
Here we have Jesus participating in synagogue worship on the pattern of his ancestor Ezra.  Many things are going on in this text.  Luke is continuing to emphasize that Jesus was a faithful Jew.  He is also setting up another theme of his, that Jesus is our primary interpreter of Scripture.  Jesus is setting forth his agenda, finding it in Isaiah 61:1, 58:6 & 61:2.  The interjection of 58:6 is significant in that it is a reflection on Leviticus 25:8-12, the description of the year of Jubilee.  The Year of Jubilee was an every 50-year time of liberation from debt and restoration of status (including lost property).  For Jesus, this is what being the Messiah means—to fulfill this liberation today.

4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:  18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study, with attribution.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Epiphany 2C Readings & Commentaries

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

1st Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5
Our first reading is from the section of Isaiah sometimes referred to as “Third Isaiah” (chapters 56-66). These chapters were clearly written after the return of Israel from the exile.  Israel struggled in the years following their return.  Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside had been devastated.  It was probably hard to believe that Israel would ever again rise up in glory.  In our passage this morning such a rising is proclaimed.  God will rejoice over his people, who have been given new names.  The re-naming of people occurs frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures and is always a signal of divine intervention.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Psalm 36:5-10
As a whole, Psalm 36 is a prayer for help that is also a confession of faith.  These middle verses are more the latter.  If there is a theme it is God’s steadfast love (in Hebrew he┼čed).  It appears in verses 5, 7 and 10 (translated simply “love” and “loving-kindness”).

5 Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, *
            and your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
    your justice like the great deep; *
           you save both man and beast, O LORD.
7 How priceless is your love, O God! *
            your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
            you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the well of life, *
            and in your light we see light.
10 Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you, *
            and your favor to those who are true of heart.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
We will be reading from the latter portion of the first letter to the Corinthians during Epiphany (and the beginning of 2 Corinthians when there is a seventh and eighth Sunday).  Paul talks here about the diversity of spiritual gifts given to God’s people.  He begins, however, by speaking of the common Spirit that allows us all to say “Jesus is Lord.”  Paul’s central understanding of spiritual gifts is that they exist “for the common good,” not as a sign of individual favor.  This truth is because they are gifts from “the same Spirit.”

12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4  ow there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Gospel Reading: John 2:1-11
On the Second Sunday after The Epiphany we always read a passage from latter portion of chapter one and the beginning of chapter 2 of John’s Gospel, moments of revelation as Jesus begins his ministry.  There are many things interesting about the Cana wedding story.  This is an astounding miracle but it does not help anyone except the party-giver's reputation and the guests continued imbibing.  And what of the strange exchange between Jesus and his mother (who appears here for the first time in John’s Gospel and remains nameless)? Do the wedding guests ever know there has been a miracle?  Perhaps, as the first “sign” in John’s Gospel, the story is meant to tell us that Jesus (and the Gospel) do not play to our expectations.

2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study, with attribution. Bulletin inserts are available for congregational use.  Visit our website for more information.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Baptism of Jesus Sunday Readings & Commentaries

The First Sunday after Epiphany
The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ

1st Reading:  Isaiah 43:1-7
The portion of the book of Isaiah which begins at chapter 40 (often referred to as “Second Isaiah”) are words spoken by a prophet near the end of the exile of Jews in Babylon, preaching hope and the expectation that the time of exile is about to come to an end.  In our reading this morning, God declares that he will save his people because he loves them.  Israel is a people like no other people for God.  And yet, the image of drawing people from all four directions of the compass may indicate that Isaiah expects there will be an expansion of “everyone who is called by my name.”  This would be in line with other passages in Second Isaiah.

43:1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Psalm 29
Psalm 29 is a song of praise.  Its setting is a council of heavenly beings. The word “gods” in the first line is misleading.  In Hebrew the actual term is “sons of god,” and most scholars today translate it as “heavenly beings,” implying angels.  Psalm 29 shares many characteristics with a Canaanite hymn to their “storm god.”  This psalm is probably an appropriation of that hymn, but also a refutation.  Israel’s God is God alone.  The voice of God on the waters echoes our first reading, and anticipates our gospel reading.

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
   the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
   the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.
9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
            the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

2nd Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 8:14-17
The deacon Philip’s mission to Samaria (Acts 8:1-13) has borne fruit.  Now the question for the apostles is, “How should we respond?”  They send two of their number and they facilitate the Samaritan converts’ reception of the Holy Spirit.  One of the great significances of this little passage is that this is the first time in the record that non-Jews are accepted into the Christian community.  Granted, they are cousins of the Jews, but they had been clearly excluded under the Law.

8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of Jesus’ baptism (and John alludes to it).  Among them, Luke seems especially sensitive to the relationship between John and Jesus.  Jesus’ baptism is mentioned without mention of John, indeed Luke has already told of his arrest and imprisonment (in the verses omitted this morning).  The descent of the Spirit on Jesus is different in Luke as well.  It occurs while Jesus is in prayer after the baptism.  The importance of Jesus’ life of prayer will be uniquely important throughout Luke.

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.  Inserts are available for congregational use.  For information, visit our website.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Epiphany Readings & Commentaries

In Christmas pageants, elements of this story are tacked onto Luke’s birth story (2:1-20), but in reality they are very different stories and the visit of the Magi deserves to be known in all its richness. 

1st Reading:  Isaiah 60:1-6
Light is the primary image of this feast.  In this reading, Isaiah prophecies that the people themselves are to be a light, a light to all the nations.  This was one of two lines of thought in post-exilic Israel.  The other, represented by the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, was to strengthen the barrier between Israel and the nations.  Isaiah imagines the nations being drawn to Israel and Israel’s God.  This reading also includes images that appear in the Gospel story, camels bringing those from far away bearing gifts.

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Psalm 72 is a royal psalm, perhaps from the coronation liturgy.  It lays out the king’ responsibilities, justice and righteousness for all his people.  Again there is imagery of peoples from far away coming to bear gifts.  Note they do so because they are attracted by the king’s extraordinary treatment of those who are weak, needy, or oppressed.
1     Give the King your justice, O God, *
           and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
2     That he may rule your people righteously *
           and the poor with justice;
3     That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
           and the little hills bring righteousness.
4     He shall defend the needy among the people; *
           he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5     He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
           from one generation to another.
6     He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
           like showers that water the earth.
7     In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
           there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
10   The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, *
           and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.
11   All kings shall bow down before him, *
           and all the nations do him service.
12   For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, *
           and the oppressed who has no helper.
13   He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; *
           he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
14   He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence,
            and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

2nd Reading:  Ephesians 3:1-12
Paul speaks eloquently of the plan of God to reveal himself to the Gentiles, the plan he believes always existed but was hidden until the coming of Christ and the mission Paul has been given.  This radical plan is that Jews and Gentiles become one.

3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:  6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 2:1-12
In Christmas pageants, elements of this story are tacked onto Luke’s birth story (2:1-20), but in reality they are very different stories and the visit of the Magi deserves to be known in all its richness.  The wise men (magoi in Greek) were likely astrologers and emissaries of foreign courts.  They were not “kings” (a notion that came from the Isaiah reading and the psalm for today).  They also were not necessarily three in number.  The text does not give them a number; we have implied it from the three gifts.  Those gifts are highly symbolic in nature:  gold for a ruler, incense for a priest, myrrh for one who is to die.  Revelation comes to people in the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel via dreams (1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22).  The prophecy concerning Bethlehem is from Micah 5:2. That the wise men first went to Jerusalem to consult the current king was only natural, but the “king” they seek is of a very different nature.

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2019, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to copy for group study.  Worship bulletin inserts are available. For more information visit our website.