Sunday, 2 January AD 2011
Of course the first thing to do is to wish you all a Happy New Year!
The Epiphany or Manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated on January 6. Because of the importance of this feast both in itself and as the culmination of the festival of the Nativity, it is permitted to be kept on the Sunday preceding the 6th in place of the Second Sunday after Christmas Day. One might ask why this festival may be thus anticipated, since the usual way is to commemorate a feast on the Sunday following the day itself (as, for example, All Saints` Day—see the rubric on p. 427 of the BAS). The answer lies in the history of the feast.
Although the Western or Latin Churches keep the Epiphany as a commemoration of the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus (Matthew 2.1-12), it is not so in the Eastern or Greek Church, where the feast originated. There, the primary theme was the Baptism of Christ, although it also commemorated his Nativity and other manifestations of his divinity such as the miracle at Cana of Galilee. Christmas developed as a feast of the Nativity in the Western Church and when the Epiphany was adopted there, a particular focus was placed in the magi, though other epiphanies are reflected in the liturgies.
In recent years, the Western Churches had wanted to mark the Lord`s baptism at Epiphany, as well. It is for this reason that we keep the Sunday after Epiphany as the Lord`s Baptism and when it is desired to celebrate the Epiphany with fitting solemnity, to do in on the Sunday before.
The Book of Common Prayer gives the feast a subtitle which explains the importance of commemorating the visit of the Magi: it is the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. The meaning is expressed in a sermon preached by John Cosin on Epiphany 1621 at Cambridge:
“We are still at the feast of Christmas, and this is the last and great day of the feast, as St. John said of another. A feast of joy it has been all this while, but this day was given us that our joy might be full. They were tidings of joy that the Angels brought, a while since, to the shepherds, Jews, hard at hand; but when the glad tidings of the Gospel came abroad once to all the people, as this day they came so, then were they no more tidings of ordinary, but of great joy. 'Behold, I bring you tidings,' saith the Angel, but not to you alone; though to you, yet to others as well as you, 'which shall be to all people: Hitherto, then, it was Evangelizo vobis, vobis Judæis [I bring good tidings to you, to you Jews]. but to-day it was omni populo [to all people]; that now a Saviour was born unto us all, Which was Christ the Lord. And indeed this is our Christmas-day, that were Gentiles; for though Christ was born twelve days since in Jury [Judea], yet he came not abroad the world while now, and to us He seemed as yet unborn being but like a rich treasure in man's field, at this time not known to be so, till He was this day manifested unto us in the persons of these Wise Men, the first fruits of the Gentiles” [Sermon I, Cosin’s Works, volume 1; see http://anglicanhistory.org/lact/cosin1//sermon1.html].
Isaiah 60.1–6: The Glory of the New Zion
Isaiah 60.1-62.2 contains a series of songs on the glory of Jerusalem and of the Lord’s people which are reminiscent of chapters 40-55. 60.1-22 is a song of The Glory of the New Zion
1-3: Introduction. Zion (Jerusalem) is bidden to arise, shine and reflect the glory of the Lord (6.3, compare Ezekiel 1.4-28; 10.4), which will attract all nations (6.18). Note rising in verses 1 and 3, and compare the Gospel account of the magi.
v 2-3. For the setting in Messiah see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJ79RQThn0g
4-5: Risen Zion welcomes her children home
6-7: Arabia`s riches are brought by camel caravan.
6. The people of Midian were the descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham by Keturah (see Genesis 25. 2) Ephah was a son of Midian (Gen 25.4). Moses` father-in-law was a priest of Midian (Exodus 2.15). These descendants of Abraham now participate in their patrimony, as some day all nations will become God`s children through faith (see Romans 4.17). This theme is found again in the Gospel account of visit of the magi with their gifts, representatives of the best of the Gentiles coming to worship the Christ. Sheba may be modern Yemen, Gold and frankincense: see the Gospel. The nations come to Zion, not only to receive instruction, as in Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3, but to rebuild and glorify the city.
Refrain All nations shall serve him.
The Epistle: Ephesians 3.1–12
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 2.1–12
The storhy is obviously influenced by the account in Numbers 22-24 of the prophet Balaam; see especially Numbers 24.17.
1. Wise men translates the Greek magoi, magi: in ancient literature this term referred to those engaged in occult arts and covered a wide range of astronomers, fortune tellers, priestly augurs, and magicians of varying plausibility. That Matthew describes them as interpreting the rising of a star suggests we should think of them as astrologers. They are Gentiles, representing the wisdom of natural learning, not of special revelation. The traditional number of three magi comes from the three gifts; John Cosin notes in another sermon that “for their number; there is an imperfect author, whom they have printed under St. Chrysostom's name, (but it is none of his, nor nothing like him,) who delivers it for a tradition in his time, though no man can yet tell whenever that time was, that they were twelve in number, and neither more nor less, to wait upon Christ's person, than there are now days to wait upon his nativity.” One wishes Cosin had given a footnote see http://anglicanhistory.org/lact/cosin/1/sermon21.html
2. Where is he that is born King of the Jews? Born king, that is already King at his birth, not to become king later. Slater in the Century Commentary, notes that “Herod had not been born king, nor indeed had one been born King of the Jews for six centuries.” We have seen his star at its rising. On the star itself, see Brown or some other good commentary; I find all the suggestions lacking. At its rising is to be preferred to in the East; the word anatolē means ‘rising’; it is from ‘rising of the sun’ that it comes to mean ‘East’. The reasons for preferring ‘rising’ here are due to the Greek idiom involved. What we are to understand is not necessarily that this was some wondrous bright object in the sky, but that these wise men saw a star rise at a point in the sky which by their art signified Israel or the land of Judah; “having seen the rise of the star which they associate with the King of the Jews, they have come to the capital city of the Jews for more information” [Brown]. There is also nothing in the text until v. 9 that suggests that the star moved. To pay him homage: better, to worship him; I have said before that I think ‘pay homage’ is too weak a translation, since it is at root a contractual relationship between a king or noble and his ‘man’ and not the abandonment of adoration; the Greek verb is principally used to mean fall down and worship, to do reverence.
3. Herod was frightened: Oh, dear, after complaining that homage was too weak I have to complain that frightened might be too strong, though as Slater notes, Herod had come to the throne by fraud and violence, and would dread a rival who might appeal to the superstitious multitude. Brown gives startled.
4. calling together …. translates a verb frequently used by Matthew in the Passion narrative to describe the assembling of Jesus’ enemies, especially the chief priests, the scribes and the elders, against him (26.3, 57; 27.17, 27,. 62) see also Psalm 2.2; chief priests includes the high priest in office, former high priests now deposed, and members of the families from which the high priests were chosen. Where the Messiah was to be born: note that the Magi had asked for ‘the King of the Jews’. The titles seem to be used interchangeably.
6. Their quotation combines Micah 5.1 (5.2 in the RSV) and 2 Samuel 5.2. There are differences between the Hebrew text and the version given here for which see Brown
7. when the star had appeared refers to the same event as 'in its rising' in v. 2, the year, month and day. Herod’s concern for the exact time is preparing us for his order of the slaughter of the innocents in 2.16.
8. Bring me word: The Greek verb means to report, announce, but does not make it clear whether the magi were to send word or bring the news themselves. 2.12 implies the latter.
9. … there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising seems unnecessarily convoluted; the word order in the original, as in RSV is ‘and lo, the star which they had seen in its rising went before them’. This is quite clear English. That a star might lead people is known in ancient literature; that it would lead them to a particular house is unusual. … over the place where the child was: literally, ‘over where the child was’.
11. going into the house. Although Luke does not say what building the manger was in, it appears that it was not a house. The two Gospel accounts cannot easily be harmonized; see Brown. Gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. It would be hard to improve on the hymn We Three Kings as a commentary on the meaning of the three gifts. However, a brief comment of G. K. Chesterton might inspire thought:
There were three things prefigured and promised by the gifts in the cave of Bethlehem concerning the Child who received them; that He should be crowned like a King: that He should be worshipped like a God; and that he should die like a man. And these things would sound like Eastern flattery, were it not for the third.
Saturday 1 The Naming Of Jesus; New Year’s Day
Sunday 2 The Second Sunday after Christmas Day; The Epiphany is celebrated.
Monday 3 The Tenth Day of Christmas
The Memorial of Basil the Great, 379, and Gregory of Nazianzus, 389, Bishops and Teachers of the Faith, transferred from Sunday
Tuesday 4 The Eleventh Day of Christmas
Wednesday 5 The Twelfth Day of Christmas: Eve of the Epiphany
Thursday 6 The Epiphany of the Lord
Some reckonings, counting days after Christmas, make this the twelfth day. The idea that Christmas greenery must come down this day is modern; it may remain until Candlemas. It is likely unlucky to take it down before Epiphany
Friday 7 Feria
Saturday 8 Feria
Sunday 9 The First Sunday after Epiphany: The Baptism of Christ