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.
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.
Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
By Catherine B
Year A Epiphany 8th January 2023
Did any of you see the “Planetary Parade” between Christmas and New Year? For a few evenings most of the planets of our solar system could be seen with the naked eye. Apparently. I heard about it on the radio and went out to have a look. The sky was clear and there were plenty of twinkly dots to be seen. Some of them might have been planets. But my knowledge about astronomy is basic at best, and I don’t have a phone app that would help me identify the dots. It was not obvious where this amazing display of planets was. I was confident only about correctly identifying the crescent moon...and the aeroplane. I didn’t have all the information I needed.
The Magi knew more about the night sky than me. They’d studied it for years and knew the movements of the stars and planets. They could even calculate when something interesting might be expected. Around the time of Jesus’ birth, people were expecting something big. Something that would change their lives dramatically. Something that would restore the status of Jerusalem and God’s people. It was foreseen in Isaiah 60 – Jerusalem once again the centre of worship. Solomon’s temple restored in full, gold and frankincense returned to their rightful place. A king, born from David and Solomon’s lineage back on the throne, ruling in God’s name, just as God wanted. Jerusalem shining out in the darkness – an example to the nations.
The magi were alert. They knew where to look. And when something new appeared in the night sky, they acted. They saw the star and set out. They knew roughly where this star was leading them. So off they went to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the focus of Isaiah’s prophecy.
But it turns out that the magi didn’t have all the information they needed. They had Isaiah’s prophecy imagining Jerusalem radiating brightly like the rising sun, visible to all the nations around. The star seemed to be heading for Jerusalem, as they’d expected. So that’s where they went. But when they got there, something wasn’t quite right.
Instead of finding a new baby king from David’s line, they found a fully grown and wily king Herod. A king who new nothing about the new baby king, but whose fear of being usurped made him dangerous. The religious leaders provided the missing information needed by the magi, and confirmed the worst to Herod – there was indeed scripture (from Micah 5:2) that foretold the birth of the new king – in Bethlehem not Jerusalem.
Having realised their mistake, and with the encouragement of Herod, the magi went on beyond Jerusalem, just a little further, to Bethlehem. That’s where the star was going all along. When they reached the house where the child was, they were filled with joy and began to worship him – offering back to God the things that had been absent from the temple for so long. Gold for the temple vessels, frankincense to be used after prayers, myrrh to anoint the Messiah.
I didn’t have enough information the other day to identify the planets. But it didn’t matter. I was still able to enjoy my walk round the block on a crisp evening under a clear sky and appreciate the unidentified twinkly dots.
The Magi didn’t have enough information to find the baby king at first. Had they kept their eyes on the star as they approached Jerusalem, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. But as it was, they were put back on the right path. They made it to Bethlehem and offered the new king their long-desired worship. Isaiah’s prophecy wasn’t fulfilled in exactly the way they were expecting. The new age was here, but it was very much also still to come. The baby was born, but he was helpless and vulnerable, and his life was already under threat from a dangerous king. It was right to worship, but the time had not yet come for the complete and total restoration of the holy city. A glimpse of God’s glory was all that the Magi had. But it was there, and they gave thanks.
Our world is still full of unrest and danger. Restoration of God’s kingdom is still work in progress. But we celebrate Epiphany because the king is already here. And if we care to look up at the stars on a clear night, maybe we like the Magi will have the occasional momentary sense of God’s glory. When we do, let’s give thanks.
Prepared by Oli.