Today in the Spirit: Epiphany 2A

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At Epiphany 2, we move into the first of two “ordinary” periods (as opposed to extraordinary periods of feasting or penitence) in the church year. The shorter ordinary period begins after Epiphany Day; the longer one after the Day of Pentecost. In the Sunday lectionary ordinary time is marked by a more systematic (though not complete) presentation of readings from the NT epistles. In Year A of Epiphany the church assigns sequential readings from the early chapters of 1 Corinthians alongside Gospel readings from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. The assigned readings from the OT and psalm generally correspond to themes arising in the Gospel reading, but occasionally the more obvious fit is with the NT selection. In Epiphany 2 every year the Gospel readings assigned are from the early chapters of John to inform us about, and “illumine” us by (see the Collect below), the events of Jesus’ ministry taking place just after his baptism in Judea (southern Palestine) and before he returns north to Galilee.     

The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:21-28)

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb (21).

And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped (26-27).

Celebrant: “Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” People: “Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.” These words may be spoken at the climactic end of the Eucharistic prayer on Sundays. The language–as best we can tell–comes to us by Paul (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) who, being an observant Jew, would have been inspired to use such words from the command given in this OT reading: And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service…you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt…”  Okay. But there is an important contrast to be observed between the Passover lamb of the OT and the Lamb of God in the NT. In Exodus the people must go and select lambs for themselves, but in the assigned Gospel reading Jesus appears to John the Baptist and his disciples, without their searching for him, and they say with surprise, Look, the Lamb of God! (John 1:29,36). The OT law sends people looking for their own sacrifice, in the NT Jesus is revealed as the one and only true sacrifice from the Father in heaven (see Hebrews 9:23ff). Today, by the Spirit, we celebrate Holy Communion in church to remember, and to give testimony to our children so they remember, that God’s loving grace appears to us beyond all hope in the face of Jesus Christ.. 

I Have Not Hidden Your Deliverance (Psalm 40:1-11)

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation (9-10).

The eager spirit of “David” in the psalm to proclaim and tell of the works of YHWH is like that of John the Baptist in the assigned Gospel reading who declares, I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God (John 1:34). Note for David in the psalm the witness is all about personal testimony. Many of us are hesitant to share our faith with others out of fear we do not know enough Bible or theology. For David it is more than sufficient to proclaim in Israel his own experiences of help from God. He has an abundance of stories to tell, and he is eager to share them with others. Why not try this for yourself? Write out a few two-minute personal testimonies of God working in your life–one of healing from sickness, one of provision in a time of need and one of deliverance from trouble. Rehearse telling these stories in your own words, and then–and this is critical–pray for opportunities to share them with others. Do this today and see what the Holy Spirit will do.  

I Give Thanks to My God Always for You (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (4-8).

Beginning this week the church assigns a series of NT readings through the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians. As he often does, Paul begins this letter with thanksgiving and praise to God for the saints he is addressing. Now if you know anything about the severe criticisms to come in 1 Corinthians, reading back on the generous language found in this opening may be surprising. Devotionally, there is a valuable lesson to learn from Paul’s writing here: there is in every situation always reason to praise God; and, similarly, there is for every saint (even every human being created by God) always motive to give thanks, no matter what difficulties he or she or they may be giving us. Why not make Paul’s manner of addressing the unruly Corinthians a model for your intercession for others? Like Paul, do not fail to pray for troublemakers; and when you do, begin by giving thanks and praise to God for them. This is admittedly very hard to do, but it might help to remember with humility that just as others may be troubling you, you are at any given moment likely a troublemaker for someone else. Today, Holy Spirit, grant me the extraordinary generosity that flows from the life of the Son of God in me, that I will remember to thank you and praise you for every person you have placed in my life.    

For This Purpose I Came (John 1:29-42)

The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (29-34).

Who is John speaking to in this passage? We have no idea. The lack of a specified audience has the effect of putting all the emphasis in the reader’s mind on John’s words. No audience becomes every audience, and his words pure witness, revelation of heaven to the whole world–Jesus is the Son of God. Now, as I have mentioned in earlier devotions through Advent and Christmas, John the Baptist is a type of the church. His character as portrayed in the Gospels symbolizes the ideal of the church. So his witness is our own. With him, we are all meant to declare for this purpose I came_[you fill in the blank]__, that he might be revealed. If we have been called to Christ and equipped by the Holy Spirit, are we not compelled like John to dedicate our families, our careers, our status in society–all of it–to the testimony that Jesus is the Son of God? Humbly, we will admit that making Jesus the meaning of our lives is slow cooking, a lifetime of starts and stops, victories and disappointments. Nevertheless, today, in the Spirit, we pray that the church as a whole, and ourselves as members of it, will make our testimony to Jesus Christ good for every audience.

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

January 9, 2023

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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