Monday, January 1, 2018

To Make Plain the Mystery – 7 January 2018 – Epiphany

In a day when the Christian church is doing its best to multiply the number of barriers within church walls, and even the barriers beyond those walls, the lessons of the Epiphany are welcome indeed. The lessons invite us to observe this day as a celebration of the universality of the church, marked by the inclusion of the mysterious visitors from the East who journeyed to a foreign land in order to worship Jesus, the Christ.

. . . Observance of the Epiphany. . . allows an opportunity for us to reflect on the mysterious journey of faith that God invites us on repeatedly, as individuals and as members together of the body of Christ. The fact that Epiphany falls close to New Year's Day is an asset since many people use the beginning of a new year to reflect on the year past and to consider goals and intentions for the year ahead. –– Carol J. Noren

Matthew 2:1-12

Particularly in this age of division among nations and peoples, it is good to be reminded that those of goodwill, whatever their religion, nationality or ethnicity, can be responsive to God's revelation. As Walter Brueggemann put it in a prayer before one of his Old Testament classes [Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, (Fortress, 2003), 105]:

Right in the middle of chaos, 
you designate human agents who do your will. 
And we are not sure: We would rather it were you, 
straight on and visible. 
But you stay hidden in your holy splendor, 
and we are left with human agents 
about whom we are never sure …  
And then, in a flash, it may dawn on us: 
You call and designate people like us, your agents. 
Kingdoms rage … and we are called. 
Empires tremble … and we are designated …  
And we are dazzled. Amen. 

Such is the intent of the Epiphany lection. –– Sara Webb Phillips

Isaiah 60:1-6

The radiance of the LORD's presence is seen in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. . . as exiles return in caravans bringing the riches from their productivity (v 6). Although I have always thought of Isaiah's summons “Arise, shine!” as one thought, it is twofold (v 1). First its exiled citizens are called out of the darkness, to arise from the experience of being torn from their homes to return to Jerusalem. Then they are called into the light of a new day, to shine forth creating a new age of prosperity and peace, as well as to recognize this light as shining from God as well (v 5). It is God who calls forth the restoration of Zion. –– Sara Webb Phillips

Ephesians 3:1-12

It brings Paul joy to share the Gospel with gentiles, whom God includes in the plan of salvation. All can participate in the promises revealed in Jesus Christ; all can receive the Spirit to enable their sharing of the Gospel as well (v 6). 

. . . With those embracing the good news able to become heirs of the faith through Christ's Spirit and no longer through nationality, the message of salvation through Christ is open to all, not just children of Abraham. Being “in Christ” is all that is necessary (v 12). –– Sara Webb Phillips

Carol J. Noren, a United Methodist pastor, is the Wesley W. Nelson professor of homiletics at North Park Theological Seminary. She served churches as pastor in Minnesota for twenty years.

Sara Webb Phillips is a United Methodist minister serving North Springs UMC in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

Homily Service 40, no. 2 (2007): 13-22.

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