TLW52 for Sunday, December 29 + Sunday, January 5 (Christmas 1 + Epiphany)
Isaiah 60:1-6 — the light appears to the nations
60:1-3 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
“Darkness covers the earth… but the Lord… and His glory appears” – a picture of our world clouded by pervasive sin but God’s glory in His people shine as a beacon in this spiritual darkness as God always intended, Gen. 12:3
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
“All assemble and come” – following the exile, alluded to in Isaiah 49:13-22, the words of 49:18 and 22 are repeated in the regathering of those who have stayed faithful; looking further still to the Gentile influx and the New Jerusalem.
5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.
“Riches of the nations will come… camels… bearing gold and incense…” – the picture is of caravans of wealthy pilgrims on a journey to worship, in the day of the Lord. In a partial fulfilment, one particular caravan of wealthy Gentiles did seek and find the Lord a year or two after His birth, Matthew 2:1 and 11 (below).
Isaiah 63:7 I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which He is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us – yes, the many good things He has done for Israel, according to His compassion and many kindnesses.
“I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD” – the nation of Israel rebelled repeatedly and suffered the consequences, God’s nature throughout Scripture is unfailing, gracious and merciful love, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness” in His words to Moses, Exodus 34:7 .
8 He said, “Surely they are My people, children who will be true to Me”; and so He became their Saviour. In all their distress He too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
“The angel of His presence” – an expression of the Lord drawing near to His people, sorrowful for their suffering even though the result of their own sin. “Come near to God and He will come near to you,” James 4:8a.
REFLECTION Augustine explained the Old and New Testaments as, “The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed. ” Each perspective is needed to understand the other – evident here in the well-known prophecies of Isaiah which show God’s historic purpose in the Gentile dignitaries coming to worship the infant Jesus as their Lord, and the reconciliation and unifying of believers in the growing church.
Matthew 2:1-23 – the light in the sky signals the light of the world
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”
“Magi from the east” – probably Zoroastrian sages from Persia with an awareness of the Scriptures from Daniel’s time, Daniel 5:11.
3-6 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”
“Teachers of the law” – the professional scholars knew of the foretold Messiah and where He was to be born, yet didn’t believe it and made no move to visit Bethlehem just beyond southern outskirts of the city.
“Shepherd My people” – Matthew’s word for “rule” from “He will will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord”, Micah 5:4, thereby referencing the whole prophecy.
7-8 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.”
“I too may go and worship Him” – Herod wanted to kill him, not worship Him. Threatened by the announcement of a “king of the Jews”, he completely failed to understand who this Messiah, Jesus, was.
9-10 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
“The star… went ahead of them” – astronomical theories founder here, as the supernatural light moved, and to a position only six miles away.
11-12 On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
“Gold, frankincense and myrrh” – the two aromatic commodities, like the gold, were extremely valuable, and God’s providence for the refugee family.
13-15 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and His mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill Him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My son.”
“Fulfilled” – an emphasis of Matthew’s writing of this ‘Jewish” gospel and the second fulfilment he mentions, following his quotation of Micah earlier.
16-18 When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
“Rachel weeping” – at the time of Babylon’s slaughter Jeremiah personified mourning mothers as Rachel. Bethlehem was a tiny village and the number was probably no more than about 20. Outrage though this was, it was Herod (who had murdered members of his own family to safeguard his throne) and historians of the time did not record it.
19-20 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
“An angel of the Lord appeared” – another way the Lord drew near at a time of need and gave clear revelation to Joseph. Herod died shortly after overreacting to the threat he so wrongly perceived; Jesus did not come for Herod’s throne but for his salvation.
21-23 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
“Archelaus” – a son of Herod the Great and like his father; the Romans sacked him for misrule and appointed governors, of whom (later) Pilate was one.
“Nazarene” – a play on words recalling a number of prophecies, that the Messiah would be a nesir, branch, Isaiah 11:1, from a place of insignificance (like Nazareth) and despised, Isaiah 53:2-3.
REFLECTION This part of the story reminds us that God’s purposes cannot be thwarted, although freewill allows man’s moves to control and minimise what God intends for good. For Herod, it was about political control, maintained by deceit and brutality. For the priests and law experts it was their power from religious status. Both were played out throughout the life of Jesus the Nazarene, but the good news is that His death fulfilled God’s higher purpose – and bought our freedom.
Ephesians 3:1-12 – Mystery about God’s purpose becomes our enlightenment
Eph. 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles —
2-3 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.
“The administration of God’s grace” – Paul makes an important aside to explain his extraordinary mission, the former persecutor helping Jewish and non-Jewish Christian believers see themselves as graciously accepted by God through Christ, and so to accept each other.
4-6 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
“This mystery” – meaning a truth once hidden but now revealed, that Jewish and Gentile believers have equal shares in the new covenant of salvation in Jesus.
7-9 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
“To preach… and make plain [what] was kept hidden” – it was plainly stated in the OT but no one understood it, God’s unrestricted blessing promised through Abraham, and offer of salvation to both Jews and Gentiles.
• For further study, read Gen. 12:3, Isaiah 49:6, Gal. 3:28-29.
10-11 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“His intent” – God’s plan was for His family of believers, united and reconciled, to be a demonstration of His kingdom order cheered on by supportive angels, over and against demonic rulers and authorities.
12 In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
10-12 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
“Pioneer of… salvation” – Jesus went before us as the Eternal Son who became human, identified with us, and died a human death as his own sacrifice, so that we could accept what He had done on our behalf.
13 And again, “I will put my trust in Him.” And again He says, “Here am I, and the children God has given Me.”
14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
“So that by His death” – one of the most explicit statements about Jesus needing to become human to fulfil the requirements of a high priest, Hebrews 5:1-3, to break the hold of sin and death on us and to confer on us the holiness lost in the fall.
16-18 For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
“Make atonement” – because Jesus, fully divine, also fully shares our humanity, He uniquely can provide the ultimate sacrifice for our sin.
REFLECTION Paul, the apostle with an appalling CV, writes to a fellowship of believers that no one could have predicted, where different races and social levels all worshipped as one. He writes to the Ephesians about a mystery, the hard-to-grasp achievement of an unlikely Messiah from an obscure village whose path to glory was all pain and shame. Through the Good News, what couldn’t happen, did happen. Through Jesus, fully divine, becoming fully human, He could take priesthood to a whole different level and break the power of sin and death over our lives. This is the Good News of what He has done for us, and by believing it and giving our lives to Him, we receive back what we could never earn – new and eternal life.
PRAYER At this Christmas season, Lord, we remember to you our family and friends and neighbours, asking that (perhaps through us) many will come to the startling discovery of who Jesus really is and the Good News of what He has done for us.
Also read: Psalm 96