Odd and Unexpected - Reflections 1-3-2021

Reflections on the texts 
for the Day of Epiphany
to be celebrated on 
Sunday January 3, 2021

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Epiphany. The word means “appearing”, “revealing” or “making visible”. As a day on the church calendar, it is 13 days after Christmas. What is revealed or made visible? God’s love for the world through Jesus. The whole season of Epiphany (lasts until Lent) shows different ways that God is revealed through the acts and words of Jesus. 

For the day of Epiphany, which we celebrate this Sunday, the Gospel of Matthew describes the unexpected arrival of foreigners in Judea. They have been following a new star and seek the newly born king of the Jews. I bet you can picture 3 kings and their camels bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh, walking across the desert and/or kneeling before the baby Jesus…oh, and a star (or a conjunction of planets in the solar system).

In the Isaiah text for Epiphany, the community of Israel is reminded that they are called to be a light to the nations. They have just come through the transformative experience of the Exile as prisoners of war in Babylon and have returned to their land. Isaiah reminds them as they stand on that threshold of new life and new possibilities that God’s love revealed through steadfast compassion and endless mercy gave them. This love was not just for them, the “chosen people”. God chose and redeemed Israel to become a beacon for others to see - a light to the nations. A light that revealed that God’s plan of restoration was for all. And, by the way, the kings of these nations will come to worship God and bring gold and frankincense as gifts.

The author of the Ephesians points to a multicultural community that demonstrates God’s plan was indeed for all people – aka Gentiles – to receive the “boundless riches of Christ”. God’s love is revealed through the rich variety of people with no distinctions.

These texts bring Epiphany’s important message that God’s love extends to all nations and peoples. It is a significant idea which Jesus’ followers have never really been able to celebrate or fulfill completely. Christians seem to constantly judge people and divide them into acceptable and the not acceptable groups.

But, I think this story can still get a little too cozy if we stop there.

These foreigners from the East stopped by to ask the current king – Herod – where to find the new born king. The star had announced his birth and led them to Judea. They only meant to kneel before him in worship, deliver their gifts, and would be out of Judea quickly. Could Herod please tell them where to find him? That was unexpected.

Herod slips off to confer with his advisers. The all-powerful, all-knowing, all-controlling king of Judea has some questions for them.

These foreigners got a sign from the skies and he didn’t? Who on his staff missed that news? Find them, fire them, and throw them out.
There is a new KING is born who is called the Messiah? This that is a challenge to his authority. Find him and get rid of him.
And who is behind this fake news? Find them and show them what reality is.

He comes back to the magi and tells them to look in Bethlehem because an advisor remembered something about that from the prophet Micah. Then, he says, stop back by after you find him, and leave the address for me so I may go also and worship.

(Odd and a little unexpected that the King didn't have the address of the newborn king, don't you think?)

The Magi find Jesus and his parents in Bethlehem and leave the gifts (odd and unexpected) of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The text for this day, ends with the magi being warned in a dream that this suspicious and violent King was planning something other than worship and they should take an alternate route home.

This story also reminds us that God’s love will be made visible where we least expect or even want it to be. God never acts according to plan, well, by that, I mean our plan. God mysteriously and unexpectedly breaks into our world where God wants to do so.

But I also cannot stop there. 

Why were the magi warned to go home a different way? (odd)

Then very next verses say that Mary’s husband Joseph is also warned in a dream to get out of Bethlehem and take refuge in Egypt for a few years. Why? (unexpected)

The next 3 verses address those “whys”. 
They are titled the “slaughter of the innocents”. 

When Herod realizes the magi have left the country, his response is rapid and guided by anger, icy brutality, and a touch of paranoia. He orders the military to kill all the male children 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem. Herod wields his power and authority with fear, anger, callous disregard, vengeance, and death.

Although this Herod did not meet up with Jesus again, those who followed him in power certainly did. And those from Rome who granted that authority to the locals certainly did. Herod and those who followed him were absolutely justified in sensing that Jesus was a threat to their power and privilege.

This realization is a subtle but potent reality that is an undercurrent through the whole story if Jesus' ministry. Jesus did come with and by the power of God. That power with which he came is vulnerable and life-giving… Subversive, you might say. .. Or foolish... Or a stumbling block... Unexpected, you might say.
The kingdom of God is at hand.

God’s power in Jesus is to dwell with us. 
God’s power is love for all people through us. 

How to Find Us

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245