A Reading from the Book of 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
1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
2 That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;
3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.
4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.
7 In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, *
and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.
11 All kings shall bow down before him, *
and all the nations do him service.
12 For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, *
and the oppressed who has no helper.
13 He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; *
he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
14 He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, *
and dear shall their blood be in his sight.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (3:1-12)
I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—assume that 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.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
On Christmas Eve, we heard one of the two New Testament Christmas stories: the one from the gospel according to St. Luke. It begins with Mary and Joseph traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, only to find that there is no room for them in the inn, and so the child is born in a place where animals are kept. Then we come to the heart of the story, the explanation for what has just happened: a group of shepherds is out in the field, caring for their flocks, when suddenly a choir of angels appears to them, singing and proclaiming the birth of “a Savior, the Messiah.” It is a narrative that begins in an ordinary setting that then becomes extraordinary.
Today’s gospel reading heads in the opposite direction, beginning with an extraordinary, exotic scene and moving to an ordinary, even mundane one. Today, on the feast of the Epiphany, we hear part of St. Matthew’s account of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. While, over the centuries, Christians have tried to combine the two narratives to make them one, just like we do in nativity scenes like this one, they are in fact two completely different stories.
Matthew’s version begins with a group of magi in some unnamed eastern land. As those who participate in our Adult Forum know, he never says how many there were – early Christian art portrayed as few as two and as many as twenty – nor does he describe them as kings. They are “wise men” or “astrologers”: people who could read the stars. They travel for a long time, at least a matter of weeks, depending on the length of their journey. Then this colorful band arrives, first at Jerusalem and then at Bethlehem. There they enter an apparently ordinary house where Mary and Joseph and Jesus live.
While St. Luke begins with the ordinary and portrays it as suddenly infused with the extraordinary, St. Matthew takes the opposite approach. He begins with the extraordinary, the exotic figures of the magi, and has them enter the ordinary: just a common house in southern Palestine.
Today, along with celebrating the feast of the Epiphany, we are also celebrating the sacrament of baptism. That is not something that is usually a part of an Epiphany celebration, but it actually fits well, both with our gospel reading and with the feast as a whole. Like Matthew’s narrative, baptism celebrates the wonderful power and life of God entering the world through one of the most ordinary things in the world: water.
A constant supply of safe, clean water is something that we tend to take for granted. Our wonderful Dayton-area aquifer provides more than we need. Yet for much of the world, water is a matter of daily and critical concern. It is a precious resource: a necessity of life.
Here in baptism, we use that gift of water for another life-giving purpose. It serves as the sacramental means by which we incorporate new members into the Church, the Body of Christ.
But sometimes, Christians have misunderstood or misinterpreted the meaning of this sacred ritual. They have approached baptism as a stand-alone action: one that puts the baptized, whether an adult or a child, into a right relationship with God, and so all is now taken care of. It is somewhat akin to the various shots that babies receive: “There, that’s been taken care of; now we can fill out the immunization record, and they are protected for life.”
But baptism is not some sort of spiritual immunization that somehow protects a child for life. Instead, like the story of the coming of the magi into an ordinary house in Bethlehem, it is only a beginning. Just as Matthew presents our gospel story as a prelude to Jesus’ entire life and ministry, one that describes in a symbolic way what that life and ministry will be about, so baptism serves only as the prelude to Katelyn’s and Kyson’s lives and ministries, describing in a symbolic way what their lives and work will be about.
Following the pouring of the water on them, I will be taking a small container of chrism: special, scented oil that has been blessed by the bishop. And, making a sign of the cross on their foreheads with that oil, I will declare to them, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Forever is a long time – and baptism is the beginning of that “forever.”
By bringing these children here for baptism, their parents and godparents are solemnly promising to God and to God’s church that they will bring these children up in the Christian faith and life. And by serving as witnesses to their baptism and receiving them for baptism, all of us are solemnly promising to God and to God’s church that we support them in their ongoing life in Christ.
That is a very appropriate thing for us to do today as we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. The word “epiphany” means “a manifestation,” “a making known.” It celebrates, in this symbolic story about the coming of the non-Jewish magi, the way that the church will make Jesus known, not only to those of Jewish heritage, but to all the nations of the world. Just as we celebrate today the way that God in Jesus embraced all the world and included all people in the story that began with the call of Abraham, so do we who have been baptized recommit ourselves today to making Jesus known by our words and actions so that he may continue to be the Light of the world.