Feast of the Epiphany

8th January 2023

Reflection (readings below)

A story of two kings! (Or five if you like to think of the magi as kings). On the one hand we have King Herod the Great, a rich and powerful king based in his palace in Jerusalem. On the other we have Jesus, marginal and lowly in a home in Bethlehem (Matthew’s gospel tells of a house rather than a stable). Which king should we favour? To which king should we declare our allegiance? Which one would best look after us?

Today’s Psalmist reminds us of the importance of a king being someone to exercise justice and righteousness after the example of God, and to undertake to defend the poor, deliver the needy and crush the oppressor. This is applicable not just to kings but to all who rule or shape our lives be they prime ministers or local councillors or CEO or media celebrities.

Isaiah spotlights the role asked of Israel – God’s chosen people – that they stand up and witness to God’s glory. As God’s people – whether young or old, male or female – they should  be radiant as they reflect God’s glory across the globe, drawing to God’s way all the peoples and nations of the world. And the anticipation that those drawn to God would bring wealth and riches with them – surely a reminder from God that we should share the world’s wealth?

I suspect that we are not always as radiant as we might be. In this Jesus stands out. The radiance of his birth was spotted by magi far away in the east. These magi were seekers of knowledge; they were skilled at reading the signs that were in the world around them; they were dedicated in their cause and were ready to travel great distances without fully knowing where they were going but trusting in the signs God had given them. Herod the Great may have had wealth and power, but when the magi met him, they did not see in him any sign that he was the king they were seeking. 

If not a king like Herod, what was the kingship Jesus was offering? We who have received the gospel and have heard the stories and teachings of Jesus, who have shared in the revelation made known to Paul, know that Jesus did indeed fulfil the criteria of kingship outlined by the Psalmist. Jesus was the one full of righteousness and justice, that Jesus did defend the poor, heal the sick, and deliver the needy, that Jesus did indeed challenge the call out and challenge the oppressor. Jesus’s kingship was the kingship of God.

It seems that we are still called to choose between the two ways of kingship, the two ways of living, the two ways of caring for the peoples of the world – and not just the people but all that lives in creation. Do we choose the way of our government that does not value justice, that does not defend the poor, that does not provide for the healing of the sick, that does not deliver help to those in need, that does not care for the environment nor seek to protect us from the climate crisis – a government that does not pursue righteousness? Or do we choose the way of God, the rule that calls us to challenge injustice, to defend the poor, to aid the sick and the needy, to take action to protect the environment. A rule that calls us to speak the truth and to highlight wrong doing and deviousness and conceit wherever we see it?

Epiphany is the season of revelation, the season for revealing God’s glory, and for witnessing to the truth of God’s rule. It is the season for showing how life looks if we embrace God’s kingdom here in earth. It is not necessarily an easy thing to do. The Magi were warned to return home by a different road so as to avoid the rage of Herod. The Holy Family were forced into the life of refugees. Paul repeatedly ended up in prison. Yet all these were convinced that what they were doing was for God’s glory and God’s kingdom. Be radiant with the gospel, seek the truth and be fearless in choosing the right king.

And in your prayers, remember those who face derision and arrest and imprisonment the cause of what is right in God’s eyes.

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 72:1-7, 10-14

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

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 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 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.

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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