Second Sunday of Christmas

2nd January 2022

Isaiah 60: 1-6 

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
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.
Nations shall come to your light,
   and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 


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.
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.
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 84: 1-8

1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

2 The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.

Ephesians 3:1-12

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 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: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. 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, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 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. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Matthew 2: 1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“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.” ’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.’ 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Reflection 

The glory of the Lord has risen, the glory of the Lord has appeared. It is a light shines in dark places and summons people. Not a search light seeking the intruder or the escapee. Not a light house beam flashing up warnings of danger. But like a light over the door way that says ‘Welcome, come in’. Like a street light that illuminates the road you should follow. Like a neon advertisement that says ‘Come! Be amazed! Be persuaded!’

The word used in Hebrew of glory is ‘kabod’ or ‘kavod’. The original meaning of the word was weight, but also has meanings of abundance, importance  and dignity. It was the ‘kavod’ of the Lord that filled the tabernacle. It was the ‘kavod’ of the Lord that went ahead of the people in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and  of fire by night. It was the ‘kavod’ of the Lord that enveloped Mount Sinai. In the days of Moses the glory of the Lord leads the people through the wilderness to the promised land. Now, here in the words of Isaiah, the glory of the Lord is not only  bringing light to the Israelites, but to the leaders of the nations across the world. As the peoples and nations come together, they will gather an abundance of the earth’s gifts. ‘Lift up your eyes and see!’ says Isaiah. 

Is it that sometimes we don’t see the glory of God in the world around us, that we do not realise the abundance that the world has to offer us?  If only we had the eyes to see? If only we perceived that by caring for the soil by understanding the importance of its micro-organisms, it would produce bountiful crops. Instead we damage these by flooding the soil with fertilisers and pesticides. If only we perceived that by sharing resources equitably, we would remove the causes of war and migration. If only we perceived that by sharing vaccines and vaccine patents,  we could end the threat that covid poses.

The psalmist cries out his – or maybe her – earnest desire to be at one, to be at home with God. To live in God’s presence is to be happy! Happy are those who find their strength in God, who follow the pilgrim way. This seems to echo the idea of the Israelites following God through the wilderness. The pilgrims’ way is not necessarily straight forward but God will reveal his presence  to them, will hear the prayers of those who seek him, and will defend them.

The epistle reading today comes from the Letter to the Ephesians. Whilst it is probably not the writing of Paul himself, it is written as if from him because of his significant role in taking the gospel to people outside the Jewish faith. The good news, the Christian faith is for everyone! It is good news because it brings  to everyone the boundless riches (an echo of the glory of God?) that come through Christ. The writer explains that it is a mystery that was previously kept hidden but which now it is revealed beings a wisdom that will benefit in rich variety all leaders and authorities.

So to today’s gospel. Here we have people of wisdom who can read the signs of the times, who discern their significance of their pilgrimage as it unfolds. They think logically at first and go to the court of Herod to find the newly born king. 

Herod too has a certain amount of wisdom. These visitors have come from the east – outside the bounds of the Roman Empire. Do they perhaps perceive that this king is not just going to have influence in Judea but further afield too? Maybe both in their home land but in the lands currently controlled by Rome? Maybe a new world wide reign? If so, this is not a message Herod wants to hear. His wisdom may not extend to understanding God’s plan – or maybe he hopes to thwart God. Certainly he acts with cunning hiding his plan from his own advisers and instead using the services of the wise men to further his own objectives. 

The pilgrims from the east continue following the light, seeking the place where they might find God’s glory. On entering the house where Jesus dwells, they are filled with joy and ‘proclaim their praise’ showering one who is  Emmanuel – God with us – with rich gifts.

This Sunday’s readings are proclaiming the good news – the glory of God – that is there for all who lift their eyes to see. It is good news that, like Paul, we are urged to share with everyone.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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