The fulfillment of God’s promise
January 5, 2012
By Terrance Callan
Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
We have all had the experience of suddenly understanding something that had puzzled us.
One name for such an understanding is insight. This Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, or manifestation, of God, in Jesus, to the entire human race. This manifestation of God gave people an understanding of God they had previously lacked.
This manifestation fulfilled promises God had made to the people of Israel long before. Throughout its history, Israel was one small nation among the many nations of the world. Each nation worshipped its own gods and goddesses. Israel believed that it alone worshipped the true God, and that the gods of all other nations were false gods. However, this was not at all apparent to the other peoples of the world. Therefore Israel looked forward to a day when it would be obvious to all that the God of Israel was the only true God.
The reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is one expression of this hope. The prophet announces God’s salvation of Israel, a time when the glory of the Lord will shine on Israel while all other nations are in darkness. God’s salvation of Israel will be a beacon radiating the truth of Israel’s faith in God. Once it is clear to the nations of the world that the God of Israel is the only God, they will walk by this light. And the nations will pour out the riches of the earth on Israel in recognition of the favor that God has shown it.
The reading from the Gospel according to Matthew describes the fulfillment of this promise. The birth of Jesus, the Messiah promised by God, was the beginning of God’s salvation of Israel. And it was also the bginning of God’s manifestation to the world that the God of Israel was the true God. Matthew indicates this by telling us that shortly after Jesus’ birth magi from the east, representing the nations of the earth, came to pay homage to Jesus. And when they found Him, they gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, representing the riches of the earth that the nations pour out as they recognize that God has saved Israel.
The reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians speaks of a further dimension to the fulfillment of this promise. When God saved Israel, not only did the nations recognize that Israel alone had known the true God, the nations also shared in Israel’s salvation. “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” The reading describes this as “the mystery…not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” It was always clear that God’s salvation of Israel would mean recognition by the nations of the world that the God of Israel was the true God. Only the coming of Jesus made it clear that the nations would share as equals in God’s salvation of Israel.
Today we celebrate the coming of Jesus in fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation. And in particular we celebrate it as a vindication of Israel’s faith before a world that did not share that faith. And finally we celebrate the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s salvation of Israel.
Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.