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Epiphany B 1st Reading

Isaiah 60:1-6

Lisa Michaels

It’s Epiphany! For the Church, that means it’s the last day of Christmastide. Wait, what? Christmas lasts more than one day? True story. In fact, Epiphany marks the twelfth day of Christmas. Perhaps we are sometimes guilty of being more familiar with the song of the same name than the implications for the end of an entire liturgical season. It’s OK. Everything happens within a context of some sort.

When exegeting Scripture and writing commentaries, I make an honest attempt to allow the great weight of responsibility to fall on me. If I’m going to attempt to share my interpretation of Scripture with others; I hope to be theologically conscientious. And so it is with a moderate amount of trepidation that I must admit that the phrase that stood out immediately to me, in this text, is actually not part of the text at all. I couldn’t even begin to discern what this text might mean without first wrapping my mind around the subheading that someone… somewhere… at some much, much later time in history than the moment when these words were penned… sandwiched between the chapter number (also added late) and the verse break (same story).

“The Ingathering of the Dispersed”

It’s often tempting to take Scripture out of its original context in order to somehow make it more relevant to everyday life or political debate, but with this passage; it’s not even a stretch. “Lift up your eyes and look around, they all gather together; they come to you…”

In this particular case, “they all” comes from the word כֻּלָּ֖ם, kullam, the whole. It’s a bit more intense than when we say something like, “’everybody’s’ here,” and we mean our four closest friends or the exclusive party RSVP list. This passage is speaking to the coming together of all nations, of all people—all of us. And then the author takes this a step further by attributing familial characteristics to these coming people. They are coming like your sons. You are to carry (תֵּאָמַֽנָה׃, te'amanah, confirm, support) them like your daughters. These people are your children. These people are your people.

It’s not the first time we read words such as these (or even these very same words), in Scripture, and although there is some mild controversy surrounding how we might best divide the book of Isaiah; most scholars agree that the whole thing was not written by a single author. It’s a collective work, perhaps even a collaboration of sorts, and the ingathering of the dispersed is important enough to make the cut more than once. This is a call to respond to the excluded. It is an expansion of the cultural expectation defining the people of God. It fits with advent and the nativity narrative in which we have been immersed for weeks!

In the opening words of this passage, we are implored to rise… to shine… to be and become the light, because our light has come! Will it be difficult? Of course, thick darkness and all of that, but the glory of the Lord shining upon us is enough. I wonder if that’s why most interpreters have taken such a glowing, happy approach to verse five. “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice,” actually translates closer to something like, “You will dread this and be in awe… a lot… and those feelings will grow in the depth of your being.” I’m pretty sure that sounds more accurate, based on tradition, reason, and experience; and the original language backs it up! The tension between what we expect and what actually needs to happen is somehow tempered by the reality of what is.

The people are coming, and there will be camels. In fact, there will be a multitude of camels! Defined in non-church-specific terms, epiphany is, “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.”[i] Epiphany marks the day when we celebrate Christ’s manifestation to the gentiles… to the Magi… to even the Magi, who fulfill these prophetic words of the book of Isaiah, bringing the prescribed gifts—the gold and the frankincense—and proclaiming the praise of the Lord… with their camels.

Epiphany marks the end of Christmastide with its immeasurable joy after the relentless waiting of Advent, because when the people of God had waited just as long as they possibly could; Messiah arrived. But we must also remember that the growing number of those included in the people of God had to wait even longer than that, and in reality it was more than twelve more days. At Epiphany, we celebrate that Christ has now been revealed to all people, and it resonates, because unless we are Jewish, we also were once among those who were dispersed. Dispersed, isolated, displaced, lonely, cut off people are our people. Praise be to God that they are coming in their diverse traditions and cultures that provide a stark contrast to our new contextual norms. Praise be to God that even though we were once not a people, we are now God’s people. May we remember that this applies to others, as well.


About the Contributor

Follower of Jesus, theology student, author, blogger, editor, educator, wife, mom, and aspiring peacemaker

Lisa Michaels