148: Epiphany C (Jan. 3, 2016)


148 for Sunday, January 3, 2016, Epiphany C

image: The Three Kings Inn
Featured Musician - Bryan Sirchio, “We Three Kings” from his newest album, December Recollections.

Episode 148 Epiphany Sunday, Year C - (January 3, 2016)
Hello and welcome to the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, the lectionary podcast for preachers, seekers and Bible geeks. This is episode 148, for Sunday, January 3, 2016, Epiphany Sunday, Year C.

Introduction and Check-in  

Quick-Fire Scripture: Ephesians 3:1-12 - Jesus’ Secret Plan!

  • Paul is talking about the Jesus secret
  • First comes across as humble brag- Paul is justifying his teaching over the disciples (who had first hand interaction with Jesus) because he received direct revelation from God

    • This might be the case- Paul definitely has some insecurities in this regard (arguably rightly so)
  • Perhaps Paul is simply trying to communicate the incredible significance of the “Jesus Secret”as good news that comes directly from God
  • What is the Jesus Secret?!

    • God’s grace given to all- even Paul, the “least of all God’s people”
    • God is doing something world-changing: v. 10 the Kingdom of God is about to be revealed to all-from “the least” to “the rulers and the powers”
    • God is doing this great thing with and through YOU the church!!
  • Don’t let the good news be God’s best kept secret- share it!!

Featured Musician - Bryan Sirchio, “We Three Kings” from his newest album, December Recollections.

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Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:1-12 Gifts of the wise ones
Initial Thoughts

  • Sweet sanitized Lectionary...skips verses 13-18
  • Epiphany used to be the second holiest day in the Christian year after Easter

    • traditionally was the only other day people were baptized
    • Dia del Reyes is still a HUGE holiday in many Spanish, Latin-American, and Hispanic cultures- great time to reach out to fellow Christians!

Bible Study

  • vv.13-18: your choice. A couple thoughts

    • Matthew begins “his argument” that Jesus is the new Moses. Just as Moses “saved” the people by leading them out of Egypt, so Jesus will “save” us from leading us out of sin
    • Herod = Pharoah - both attempt to circumvent God’s plan, both think they have the power over life and death, but that is God’s power alone

      • small comfort to the parents of the murdered children
    • Don’t tie this up with a nice neat bow.
    • God is at work in the world despite the true evil that exists

      • God does not guarantee that bad things and evil will not happen, but does promise that we do not walk through life’s dark valley’s alone
      • God is not naive about the evils of the world- neither should we be
  • Magi

    • Separate Scripture from Myth

      • How many Magi were there? Doesn’t say
      • What were their names? Doesn’t say
      • Where are they from? “The East” - nothing more is known
      • Most of what we think we know about the “Three Kings” was added over 500 years after the birth of Jesus
    • most likely astrologers (possibly Zoroastrian)

      • Magi are mentioned in Acts (Acts 8, 13 and 19) in negative ways
    • Very unlikely this is a historical event- but instead is a symbolic event characterizing the promise in Jesus for ALL people including gentiles.
  • Star

    • Unknown what exactly may have caused the astrological event
    • Lot of possibilities - it may or may not have happened
    • Mentioned by Ignatius of Antioch in his letter to the Ephesians, but connects it with a condemnation of Magi and magic which signifies that Ignatius may not have been familiar with Matthew’s gospel (Robert Miller, Born Divine: The Births of Jesus and the Other Sons of God. Polebridge Press, 2003, p. 103)
    • A Messianic star is mentioned in Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers (Number 24:17) and Balaam was a foreign seer or Magi from the East
    • Star or Comet?

      • Could have been either
      • Comets were seen as signs of the Heavens picking a new ruler: Very Roman and Hellenistic - many of the Roman emperor’s births were heralded by comets: Augustus Caesar, Nero
  • The Visit

    • The Wise Men have no idea where to go until Herod tells them the scripture the priests related to him
    • They visit the house of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem...not a stable

      • In Matthew Jesus is a King, not a poor baby born in a stable
      • The royal family lives in Bethlehem to begin with and only go to Nazareth after returning from Egypt
  • The Gifts

    • Kingly gifts- expensive luxury items
    • The foreign gentiles immediately recognize Jesus as the son of God and “King of Kings” and bring his gifts accordingly

      • King Seleucus II Callinicus offered gold, frankincense and myrrh to Apollo at the Miletus temple in 243 BC
    • Traditional Interpretation

      • Myrrh - an embalming oil and foreshadowing of his death (see John 19:39 and Mark 15:23)
      • Frankincense - Priestly incense used in rituals
      • Gold - sign of kingship
      • Origen in Contra Celsum: "gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God."
  • What do we do with these “facts”?

    • Capture the sense of wonder and mystery:

      • When I heard the learn'd astronomer, When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them, When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
    • Where is the truth?

      • Jesus’ birth is of cosmic and astronomical importance for ALL people
      • Jesus is a king (but not the King we expect- as foreshadowed by the Myrrh)
      • Jesus is a priest (but no the one we expect who answers to Kings like Herod)
      • Jesus’ birth is good news for all who wish to participate in God’s radically inclusive love and grace, but is not good news for those who desire power over and against others (just as the Exodus is good news, but not for Pharaoh who rejects God’s invitation to be an agent of grace)

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • This is not a historical story - but a tale of the cosmic influence of Jesus’ birth. It is improbable and ridiculous that wise magicians from a foreign land would travel to Jerusalem only to learn of their destination from one who wants to kill the one they seek and then to bring this boy, born in some dusty backwater gifts fit for a king. It is absurd.

    • SPOILER ALERT: it is only going to get more absurd from here (the poor will be blessed, the last will be first and the son of God will be nailed to a cross)

Psalm Nugget: Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14  Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com, @pomopsalmist)

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Second Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6 The Glory of the Lord
Initial Thoughts

  • If you’re tired of the wise men, dabble in Isaiah.

    • This reading can stand alone, or as a complement to the Epiphany story. Clearly, the theme of “Nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning radiance” fits with the epiphany story.

Bible Study

  • Literary Context (Christopher Seitz, New Interpreter’s Bible, v. VI, p. 504-5)

    • Part of what some call Trito Isaiah of chapters 56-66, but Christopher Seitz argues against calling this section separate.
    • “Material in these three chapters [60-62], are thought to involve, ‘salvation, and nothing but salvation.’”
    • “Chapter 60 keeps at its focus the city of Zion. It is not concerned as much with Zion’s present inhabitants as with the nations and with Zion’s children who have yet to be gathered.”
    • “I regard it as probably that the voice that speaks up in chaps 60-61 is indeed the voice of the prophet at work in the literature thus far. We view him here, as in 54-59, as a servant follower of the martyred servant of 52-53.”
    • Previous chapters are about the suffering servant. Some point this section to be about Israel as a whole, some about Zion, some about a particular person. This reading wraps up the section about the servant and the beginning of the redemption.
    • “What occurs is the coalescing of various themes introduced in the discourse of the servant”
  • Whose light is it anyway?

    • Ambiguous your/for reflected in NRSV and CEB translations
    • NRSV: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
    • CEB: Arise! Shine! Your light has come; the LORD's glory has shone upon you.
    • Is the light God or is the light Israel?
    • “The words are wondrously and deliberately ambiguous. ‘Your light’ is in fact Yahweh, who is Israel’s only source of hope and possibility. At the same time, however, ‘your light’ refers to Israel’s own ‘glow,’ which is a gift of Yahweh that changes the very character of Israel. Thus ‘your light’ is both intrusion from Yahweh and restored Israel.” (James Newsome, Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 85, emphasis is the author’s).
    • Much of Isaiah has been concerned with the darkness that is Israel. Darkness that comes from injustice. But now there is light.
  • Israel as magnet

    • Return of the exiles, but more...
    • Recalls promise of Abraham, that his family will be a blessing to all nations.
    • Many people see/saw America as this light in the new world. A place where people could pursue justice and peace. Is this still the case? Was it ever?

      • Statue of Liberty
    • “Something new is happening that Israel could not have expected or believed. When Israel finally lifts its eyes from its despair, it will not believe what it sees! There is a huge procession from all over the known world” (Newsome, p. 85)

      • Field of Dreams - If you build it, they will come. End scene, and the field that exists still.
  • Cuts out verse 7, where God declares that the offerings will “be accepted on my altar, and I will glorify my splendid house.” This is quite the departure/turnaround from chapter 1. Isaiah opens with the declaration that God no longer wants offerings and hates the people’s festivals.

Sermon Thoughts and Questions

  • God is the source of the light. The light is reflected by Israel, but the light also changes Israel. All the nations are drawn to the light, both the light of God, and the light that has transformed Zion

    • This can easily be seen as a Christmas story.
    • The light has come through in the darkness that is both the light of Christ and the light that transforms his followers.
    • Who is drawn to our Christmas light? Is the light coming from our fancy gifts, programs, children’s pageants. Or is the light coming from a community of people transformed by the grace of God?

Tasty Wafer of the Week:

Thank you listeners

  • Everyone who made November 2015 the busiest month yet on the website, a record we set in June 2015.


Featured Musician-Bryan Sirchio, “We Three Kings” from his newest album, December Recollections.

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com, @pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Summertime”) and The Steel Wheels for our transition music(“Nola’s First Dance” from their album Lay Down, Lay Low) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).