Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 3, 2021: The Epiphany of the Lord
1) Is 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
2) Eph 3:2-3, 5-6
Gospel: Mt 2:1-12
Encounter the Jesus met by the Wise Men
The prophet Isaiah looks forward to God’s appearing in the world. As though it has already happened, Isaiah declares to his people, “Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” By his light, “nations shall walk.”
What will this light mean for people? “Justice shall flower in his days,” sings a psalmist. The Lord “shall govern your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment … he shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.”
The justice-bringing God will make his rule felt throughout the world. “All kings shall pay him homage,” the psalmist proclaims. People will come from afar, Isaiah predicts, “bearing gold and frankincense” in recognition of his kingship.
And now, the Gospel writer announces, the Lord has arrived! As a token confirmation, some men come from a distant land to acknowledge him. Guided in a mysterious way, they bring gold and precious spices that point to Jesus as king — the king foretold in Isaiah’s prophecy.
Jesus is the one in whose days justice will flower, the one to whom all kings shall pay tribute. Yet the local king, Herod, a few miles down the road in Jerusalem, not only refuses to acknowledge him; as soon as he hears about him, he begins to plan his destruction.
Warned of Herod’s intentions, Joseph and Mary will soon flee to a foreign country. The one by whose light “nations shall walk” will take his first steps as a refugee.
The Gospel writer confronts us with a severe paradox. On the one hand, the Lord has indeed come. That’s the whole point of the story. On the other hand, the powers of the world that enforce policies of oppression and injustice remain in place. The one who will bring justice is one of the “afflicted ones.” His parents are among “the poor” who rely on God for rescue.
On this feast of the Lord’s arrival, we celebrate the liturgy in which “the glory of the Lord shines.” We encounter Jesus who was worshiped by the Wise Men. The readings suggest where else we might go to encounter the Lord who has come: to the refugee camps of the world. There, and in all such places, Jesus is, with “the afflicted when he” and she “has no one to help.”
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.