The first major celebratory day of the calendar year in the life of the church is January 6: Epiphany. It marks, as you know, the coming of the Wisemen and the opening of the Gospel to us Gentiles. The biblical story of our salvation is full of jaw-dropping miracles that God performs on behalf of his people. In that context, a guiding star and the implantation in the Magi of the firm belief that they owed homage to a distant infant King isn’t very strange.
Yet mystery surrounds those Eastern visitors; exactly who they were and where they came from we’ll never know (in this life, at least). The fact that they packed up, set off, acted upon, their divine premonition bears serious thinking about. They had been pagans (so was Abraham), but acted in faith not merely out of professional curiosity. And for us, their story is the part of Christ’s story that reveals that the salvation brought by this infant descendant of King David would include many, many people formerly outside the small Israelite household of faith. Us.
The older I get, the more amazed and grateful I feel at God’s indescribable grace in having written, from the foundation of the world, my name into his Book of Life; of having grafted countless non-Jews over the many centuries of human history onto the Stump of Jesse, making us “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,” as the Apostle Peter describes us (1 Pet. 2:9).
The Bible from Genesis to Revelation is full of “Us vs. Them”: God’s people versus the nations, the Righteous vs. the Wicked, Christ versus Beelzebul. That’s the “Antithesis” that Reformed people used to talk about a lot (but don’t seem to mention much anymore – is there fear of causing offense?)
That need not make us wince. It should make us marvel that God considers any of us righteous at all. It has nothing to do with us and all to do with divine love, and grace. A phrase from the old gospel hymn “Rock of Ages” springs to mind: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
Characterized by righteousness
The chasm between Christ’s Kingdom and Satan’s is vast. It’s comforting to know that God will not allow those who defy him and are committed to vicious evil in our world – including those who are persecuting and martyring his people – to go unpunished. Yet in our daily lives with family, co-workers and neighbours that chasm may not seem deep. It can be hard to be an active witness to the “nice” people around us. Yet we know that our lives (and talk) must give evidence of Christ’s hold on us. Peter adds a crucial clause to the sentence I quoted above: there are, must be, every-day consequences to our calling: “. . . That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I find it comforting that Peter indicates that our praise of God for calling us to be his own is itself a witness to others of his grace.
Yesterday I finished reading/singing through the 150 Psalms and began again at Psalm 1, something I do continuously. This restart seems especially relevant to beginning a new year and thinking about the implications of the Epiphany. The NIV (10th anniversary edition) has a pertinent note about Psalm 1 as an introduction to the whole Psalter.
“The Psalm reminds readers that those of whom the Psalms speak (in various ways) as the people of God, those whom he receives in his presence and favours with his salvation and blessing, must be characterized by righteousness – sinners have no place among them, and that the godly piety that speaks in the Psalms is a faithful response to God’s revealed (and written) directives for life – which is the path that leads to blessedness.” May we all diligently continue in that path in 2016.
How blest are they who, fearing God,
from sin restrain their feet,
who will not with the wicked stand,
who shun the scorner’s seat.
How blest are they who make God’s law
their treasure and delight,
and meditate upon that word
with gladness day and night.
Their lives are nourished like a tree
set by the river’s side –
its leaf is green, its fruit is sure:
so all their works abide.
Psalm 1, v. 1-3,
Psalter Hymnal, 1987
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