Watch the video:
...or listen to audio:
...or download a printer-friendly PDF file [click here]
...or read it online here:
Same, Same but relevant
One of the things I love about this sanctuary is the light. Natural light that comes in from many sides. From my years of being in theater I know that the stage lights shining on you can be blinding. It is often hard to make out the faces of audience members sitting in the dark, which can be nice so they aren’t distracting.
As we walk kids home from Kids Club we hand out flashlights so that as they walk through the neighborhood they can see and be seen by others. Bonnie Stutzman often brings her huge flashlight strapped over her shoulder, helping both to illuminate the path and keeping her little flock safe walking on our dark streets.
Kids shining their flashlights in your eyes can be blinding but many lights are more helpful. Think of that moment between the darkness of night and the sun cresting the horizon sending its rays across the land. It is easier to walk in the light then in the darkness.
And honestly I’m very aware of the heaviness of darkness right now. As leaders speak of war, as Australia burns and people are traumatized, as people still approach our boarder only to be dehumanized, as a new year starts and already we hear of stabbings and violence, buildings collapsing in Cambodia, and floods in Indonesia. I feel the heaviness.
This is the transition Sunday from Advent and our time of waiting to Epiphany and a season of light. Epiphany’s literal meaning is “to manifest, show forth, or clarify. We celebrate that the Messiah has come, and we now find ourselves in the season of illumination.” (https://www.umcdiscipleship.
The star rides above us showing us the way.
These texts are old and these story well worn and familiar. We have built up layers of meaning to try and explain a situation that we only have snapshots of. Yet hearing the texts for today it is hard not to draw parallels with our lives and particularly our political leaders now. In this way it feels like we can look at these texts and think it’s the same same but still very relevant.
In this time of year when people are looking back on the year that has been and looking ahead to the year to come, we also look back. Back on the year that was for our church and back to the texts and the prophets that weave their way through our stories. We reflect here at the start of a new decade.
I want us to think about three kings and some wise men. One king who is silent but he is the main point of it all. One king who is prayed for to be the ideal king. And one king who is filled with fear and murderous jealousy. And in this story there are wise men – some who are outsiders, gentiles traveling from afar, crossing borders, following a star and searching out the new king. And wise men who have been waiting for this baby king and yet don’t jump to worship this child that was foretold.
King number one. Jesus. Jesus has been our theme for weeks. Hearing of his coming. Telling the stories of his birth. Sharing the joy and the longing for what he will bring. Jesus, born king of the Jews, who is silent here yet causes such a storm.
The next two kings are set in contrast to each other as the lectionary can do so well at times.
Psalms 72 is a prayer of intercession for the king and a calling out of what a king should be. The job of the king was to administer justice, conduct warfare, and oversee the provision of well-being for the people and kingdom.
“Justice and righteousness became the first and organizing responsibility of the king upon which all else depended” this was the royal vocation (Interpretation: Psalms, Mays p.237). For the prophets of that time, justice and righteousness were the primary criteria for the use of power in their society.
This psalm prayer is all about protecting the needy, the weak and the poor. Their blood is precious in the sight of the king.
And then there is King number three: Herod. Herod responds with fear to this news that the wise men bring. So much fear that all the people are frightened with him. Herod consults his wise men but then responds with plotting, keeping secrets and killing innocents to protect himself. Last week as we read the Matthew passage about Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt and we stopped reading before Herod starts massacring children when he realizes he has been tricked by the wise men. This story of Jesus’ birth with all of its warm fuzzies has a darker side that we like to overlook and avoid.
The wise men show up at the start of the story, full of hope in following the star and they go to the leader of the land to ask directions. We know this to be a foolish move but it seemed to make sense to them. Wouldn’t the leader of the land want to welcome and honor so great a child entering their land?
One commentator writes: “The wise men are compared and contrasted with the chief priests and scribes that Herod calls together. The wise men are traveling, seeking something they know nothing about. The scribes and priests have knowledge, but they aren’t seeking. They don’t move from their comfortable seats of wisdom and leadership, even when presented with the news that fits the knowledge they claim to prize. Knowing and seeking aren’t necessarily the same thing.”(https://www.
Which of these kings will we follow? What does each one of these characters invite us to reflect on in our own lives?
Can this light of epiphany help us to see the other, ourselves and the world differently? Isaiah invites us to lift up our eyes and look around.
How in the last year have we been people of justice and righteousness? Have we called that out in our leaders and have we prayed for them that they would deliver the needy, have pity on the weak, and redeem the oppressed from violence. Have we made the same mistake as the wise men, thinking that those in power would know the way ahead and by trusting in them, have we endangered the vulnerable?
We may need to hear our directions from our hopes and dreams, from a silent infant who we know deserves our worship. How do we go a different way instead of treading the well-worn paths we know, just because they are that, well worn and comfortable.
Will we follow the king who is filled with fear and murderous jealousy when someone breach’s his borders and threatens his power? Or like the scribes and chief priests will we sit contented with looking at the texts and prophesies of old and miss the new thing that God is doing right in front of our eyes?
Or will we be like the wise men who upset the balance of power? Even when we find ourselves as outsiders can we like those wise men encounter Jesus, “joyfully share our gifts, and be inspired toward civil disobedience against a fearful regime that takes its thirst for power out on children in its own land?” (Alissa Bender)
The wise men “didn’t travel from wherever they traveled just to give the baby some gifts. No, theirs was a journey to worship, to fall on their faces to worship the one who was a light to all the world. Remember, they were outsiders; they were the ones who saw. The insiders, the ones who knew, never bothered to look.” (https://www.umcdiscipleship.
“Epiphany pushes us beyond the boundaries of religion, race, and revelation. Non-Christians as well as Christians encounter God.”
In all of these texts they are working towards praise, overwhelmed with joy and worshiping the Lord.
Maybe like those Isaiah was writing to, you may feel like there is a thick darkness. What does it mean for our light to shine – light as bright as the dawn. We are called to lift up our eyes, arise and shine. Let peace be your overseer and righteousness your taskmaster. Are we eagerly looking for signs that the divine promise that was proclaimed has begun to unfold? Or are we caught up in knowing that this will not be a smooth path.
The light of epiphany is not only a shining light but maybe a burden lifted so that we feel lighter. God’s “light breaking forth in the darkness as an image portraying God’s saving entry into the brokenness of human bondage and suffering” (Interpretation: Isaiah 40-66, Hanson)
I see glimpses of this light in our neighborhood as one immigrant single mother opens her home over and over to other families who arrive in this community and cannot find a place to live. Her hospitality puts my Mennonite sensibilities to shame. Or families in Australia who put signs on their houses saying “if you are fleeing from the fires feel free to camp in our yard, there is water around the back and come in and share our food.”
God will renew our languishing spirits – look! A table of sustenance for that journey is spread before us. We are invited to take in this light and be sustained for the path ahead.
Are we blinded by this light or is it showing us a way forward. Will we raise up our heads with hope to see the new thing that God is doing?
[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below]