Click here for the reading: Isaiah 60:1-6.
Epiphany was once Christmas and Epiphany and all their joy wrapped together. As the celebration of Jesus’s birth became separated from the coming of the Magi to worship the King of the Jews, Epiphany lost some of its luster. The prophet Isaiah restores the gleam to Epiphany in this glorious proclamation.
The advent of the Messiah is a call to awaken to a new reality. The nations without the Messiah are pictured as dwelling in a kind of pre-creation darkness altogether without light. The listener must awake because the Lord’s glory has risen like the sun. Jesus’s coming changes the reality in which the world lives as does the sun’s rising. Nobody can miss it. Nobody can mistake it. Nobody can remain unchanged. The time to wake up is now.
The nations and their kings come to seek these things. Isa. 60:3 is where the traditional attribution of kingship to the Magi is grounded, so that Epiphany prefigures the Last Day when the kings of the earth shall cast their crowns at the feet of the Sun of Righteousness.
The desolation that was once Jerusalem’s is no more because she is the place of pilgrimage for all nations. Now they come to her walls in holy fear rather than as anointed destroyers of an idolatrous nation. Through the Messiah the swords of the nations are turned to plowshares.
The days of Solomon return in the coming of the produce of the sea and the wealth of faraway lands on camels’ backs to Jerusalem. What will they find when they arrive? The difference between expectation and vision, between waiting and arriving, between what is promised and what has come is fruitful ground for the preacher.
It is neither advisable nor possible to preach on this text without mentioning the events of the Gospel reading. The prophecy goes with its fulfillment and is empty without it. The distinctives of this prophecy, however, cast a different light on the events of Matthew 2 than the Gospel reading itself does. The wrath of Herod contravenes the prophetic intention for the kings of the earth. The resistance of earthly rulers and their kingdoms to the advent of the Messiah is not within Isaiah’s announcement. The rejoicing over Jerusalem and in Jerusalem on account on her new Solomon, her dawning Light, is unthinkable in Isaiah. The deep wickedness and perversity of Herod’s sin and the terror earthly Jerusalem felt at the announcement of a new “King of the Jews” are more deeply dark for being absurd now that the Morning Star rises in the sky.