Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Isaiah 60: 1 – 6
The Ingathering of the Dispersed
60Arise, 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.
Ephesians 3: 1 – 12
Paul’s Ministry to the Gentiles
3This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for* Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5In 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: 6that 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 to me by the working of his power. 8Although 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, 9and to make everyone see* what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in* God who created all things; 10so 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. 11This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.*
Matthew 2: 1 – 12
The Visit of the Wise Men
2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men* from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘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.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah* was to be born. 5They 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. 8Then 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.’ 9When 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. 10When they saw that the star had stopped,* they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On 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. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
In the economy of God, things don’t happen for nothing.
These Magi (these wise men from the east) were overwhelmed with joy when they saw where the star was stopped. They had brought their treasure chests with them, loaded with precious gifts.
They knew that there was more to it than simply a child who has been born king of the Jews. That would have been confirmed to them when, upon telling King Herod, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.
Who knows how their conversation may have gone. Possibly something like this:
- “I knew it! Didn’t I tell you this was big?!”
- “You knew it! Just remember it was I who discovered the star in the first place.”
- “Yes, and who do you think is financing this. I’ve always had a nose for a good investment!”
However I wonder if they had the slightest inkling of exactly how immense a deal this in fact was.
- Paul speaks of a mystery not made known to former generations.
- It is a mystery hidden for ages in* God
- Significantly 11This was in accordance with the eternal purpose of God.
So the wise men have been led by a star into something much older and bigger than they could have imagined. For thousands of years God has held close to his chest the plans he has for restoring all of creation to himself, and these plans are unfolding in the birth of a tiny baby born in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.
60Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
Within a short while this little family will be refugees, fleeing to Egypt in order to escape being murdered by King Herod. But they will return to Galilee where they came from.
Jesus would grow up, begin his ministry of teaching, healing and casting out demons. The import of who he is, and of his words would so rock the establishment that between them, both the Jewish authorities and their Roman overlords, they would put him to death.
The story might have ended there but for three events:
- Jesus rose from the dead
- He ascended into heaven
- He sent the Holy Spirit
These actions were all remarkable in themselves
- His resurrection not only confirmed his victory over the vicious twins of sin and death, but also signalled the restoration of all that had broken down and decayed.
- His ascension meant he was leaving the job of implementing his plan of restoration and salvation to his followers – the church
- The coming of the Holy Spirit meant he was giving the church the power to do what he expected from them
I’m not sure that the Magi, in spite of all their anticipation and joy at discovering Jesus newly born in a Bethlehem stable, had the faintest inkling what God had in store for humankind.
They almost certainly would not have imagined that God would leave the implementation of his great plan – what Paul called the grace given to him to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things – that God would leave all this in the hands of a few Galilean peasants then, and in the hands of you and me now.
You see there is something we often miss in the Scriptures, and that is how important a role God has for you and me. We, and others around us who believe in Jesus, are the church.
Let me read just a few words more to the scripture I read a moment ago.
8Although 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, 9and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10so 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.
The church is to announce to all the powers of both heaven and earth what this good news – this Gospel – is.
The word for church is in the Greek of the New Testament ekklesia – it means a gathering – those who believe in Jesus.
It is variously described as the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. Both terms indicate how very important a role God has for it – for you and me.
There is a saying you may have heard: “Wise men still seek him.” Well, that’s true.
I’ll tell you what else they do. They grow up. They don’t hide behind crowds in places where the services are enjoyable and then carry on their self-centred lives unchanged by the Word of God. They line up for duty – faithfully. They roll up their sleeves and build the community of God in the place they are found.
- They understand that the resurrection changes everything. It is the great reversal that turns the tide of events and possibilities. It is an indication from God that He’s putting all to rights
- They understand that the Ascension means it’s all up to people like them, like you and me. Jesus is no longer physically on earth running ragged like an overworked general
- They understand that the coming of the Holy Spirit gives them the potential, if they act in faith, to get the job done.
They have a hunger to see what began as a curiosity to some Eastern sages, but was in fact the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things – the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, – they have a hunger to carry out God’s plan of serving Christ because they understand that when we give to God all that is precious to us, he multiplies it, not just to others, but to ourselves as well.
The gift of our very selves to God is more precious than any gold, frankincense or myrrh, because he multiplies what we give to the benefit of all. And he does it in the context of the ekklesia, the gathered saints, the church.
Our precious gift to God is ourselves. His precious gift is the Gospel – the Good News. It is also what we have to give others.
However, no matter how significant the gift of ourselves to God may be, it is overshadowed by the tremendous gift of Christ to us. That we are his Body is both a mystery and a joy, and draws from us wonder and praise that far outweighs any awe evidenced by the Magi of old. May this joy be your strength in this season of Epiphany.
God bless you
1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ (Matthew 2:1 – 2a)
Infinite God, may we so use the capacities that we have received from you to seek diligently after you and your will for our lives, that, like the wise men of old, we might give to you all that is precious to us: our very selves. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
We give thanks to God for those whose care for us extends to sweeping away accumulated litter, both organic and manufactured, and to keeping in order the books and other paraphernalia we use as aids to worship.