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The First Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 43.1–7
Acts 8.14–17
Luke 3.15–17, 21–22

We now have the middle of Luke 3 for the second time in four weeks, and verses 19–20 are still missing. This mightn’t matter so much if they didn’t relate as closely as they do to the underlying themes of the other readings, chosen in this Epiphany season to emphasize the outward movement of the gospel, beyond the confines of Israel, to embrace the rest of the world.

The problem is that the rest of the world doesn’t particularly want to be embraced, thank you very much, and often takes vigorous steps to prevent any such thing happening. The crowds were wondering if John was the Messiah, the King of the Jews; no, says John, but he is coming. But there already is a king of the Jews, and he doesn’t care for rival kingdom-announcements. John’s warning of the fire that will burn up the chaff is partly directed at that supreme piece of chaff, Herod Antipas, a shadow no doubt of his malevolent old father, but still capable of brutal overreaction, not least to disturbing prophets. When you celebrate the three kings, remember that not all kings came bearing gifts...

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