YEAR C: INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT IN EPIPHANY
In the season of Epiphany the church begins to reflect on the manifestation of Christ to all people. The season begins with the Baptism of Jesus and ends with the account of his Transfiguration. We read in the Gospel passages of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry and hear quite often echoes of a call to discipleship in the way of Jesus. Themes are raised here which will reappear in the period after Pentecost.
The Old Testament readings for Epiphany pick up some of the themes in the Gospel readings but also provide some sense of continuity with the readings for Advent. Epiphany begins with two readings from the period of the end of the exile and the early period of post-exilic life. In Isaiah 62 the prophet is concerned with the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the return from exile, but also with the deeper rebuilding of the hope and faith of the people after that experience. But beyond that, we also note that the reading for Epiphany 2, Isa 62:1-5, immediately precedes the reading set for Christmas Day, Isa 62:6-12. We are reminded that in the time of rejoicing in the God who has come among us in Jesus Christ, we are still called to look forward to the light which is dawning, even as we celebrate the fulfilment of God’s promise.
The reading from Nehemiah 8 (Epiphany 3) also continues the ‘return from exile’ theme from Advent with reference to a renewal of the covenant and a reading of the law of God to the people as they recommence their life in the presence of God. This raises a theme which will be taken up again later on the feast of Transfiguration, when we will read of God’s gracious gift of a second set of law tablets to the people through Moses after the people’s rebellion at the very mount of God (Exod 34:29-35). In Nehemiah there is also the theme of God present now with his people through his word, which for Christians is Jesus Christ.
On Epiphany 4 we hear the ‘call’ story for the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 1:4-10). In the call of the prophet the ongoing call of discipleship is foreshadowed for Christian readers. This reading also reminds us that even in the presence of the one who was promised, and especially as his disciples, there is still a strong call to face squarely the things of the world which deny the gift of life that comes with God’s presence. The reality of the difficulties in heeding a call from God are continued in the passage Isaiah 6:1-8(9-13) set for Epiphany 5. An emphasis on obedience to the word of God becomes the theme in the Epiphany 6 readings: Jer 17:1-5 and Psalm 1.
There is a hint of preparation for Lent in these reading. It appears that God is never done with acting graciously toward his wayward people, as is indicated in part by the reading for the feast of the Transfiguration (Exod 34:29-35) wherein Moses receives a second copy of the law for his recalcitrant followers, as noted above. The theme of the people’s sinfulness is, however, ever present.
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