Sunday 6 January 2013
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
One doesn’t often get to preach on the Epiphany. It’s a shame, because the readings are so rich.
Clint McCann sees Psalm 72 as a coronation psalm used at the crowning of Davidic kings in Jerusalem. If this is so, in later times of the monarchy, it’s use could only express a pious hope that “the kings of Tarshish and the isles shall pay tribute and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.” Any thought of tribute coming to Jerusalem surely began to fade during the divided kingdom, and particularly after the conquest of Samaria by Assyria. And yet, the psalm survives, and has language about the king protected the poor and needy and rescuing the oppressed. It maintained the vision of what the kingdom was supposed to have been.
The reading from Isaiah comes from late in the editorial history of that book, and represents a hope for a restoration of Jerusalem beyond just the political restoration. The return, as it turned out, was not nearly as grand as had been hoped. Again, there can be no real expectation that the wealth of the nations was anytime soon going to make its way to Jerusalem. But, the prophet envisions a time in the future when God will reign. Note that the whole of chapters 60 – 66, there is no mention of a new king, of a messiah, or even of the Servant — God will be Jerusalem’s savior, directly, with no intermediary. Jerusalem shall be the priesthood for the world (61:6). This is not political tribute being imagined, but a new reign of God.
Matthew, of course, has this vision of Isaiah in mind as he writes his story of the visit of the magi. They come from the eastern empires who conquered Samaria and Jerusalem, and bring tribute of gold and frankincense (as mentioned in Isaiah), and myrrh, not mentioned in Isaiah. We’ve all sung the hymns that connect the gold to tribute for a king, frankincense as used in worship of a god, and myrrh as used in embalming, thereby foreshadowing Matthew’s plot — Jesus as King, as divine, and as crucified.
But, if Matthew had Isaiah in hand, would he also have been thinking of the image of Jerusalem as a priesthood for the world? Certainly other early christian authors had that image in view (Revelation, Peter). So, if the magi are bringing these tributes to Jesus, Jesus, as priest offers them to God. Not only is the Epiphany a manifestation of God to the Gentiles (in the persons of the magi), but also an offering of the Gentiles to God. That is certainly what the writer of Ephesians has in mind — the revelation of the mystery planned from the ages, that Gentiles and Jews worship the same God.
We, the Church, are that priesthood. What we offer in our Eucharist is the offering of the world, subsumed into the offering of Christ, for the transformation of the world. Our offerings make possible the sanctification of the all. Gold, frankincense, myrrh – what are they for us? What of ourselves do we offer?