Sermon for January 9th

First Reading Isaiah 60:1-6

Second Reading Ephesians 3:1-12

Gospel Reading Matthew 2:1-12

Sermon “Follow the Light”

The prophet Isaiah says: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. [2] See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. [3] Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

This is what we are celebrating today – Epiphany – It is the official close of the Christmas season. It celebrates the appearance of the light of the World. Note Isaiah carefully says that although the light had come specifically to Israel, all nations would be drawn to it. Epiphany which means an “Appearance” or “manifestation” recalls the journey of the Wise Men described in the gospel of Matthew. They were mysteriously drawn to the Christ child by that special star that God had arranged. A star behaving as no other star ever does or did, drawing and guiding these men on a journey to a distant land.

Many people have spent long hours trying to figure out what the star might have been, but they miss the point. The true light was Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us in human form. Now the wise men did not understand all of that. They only knew that something momentous had happened – a king had been born and they came to worship him. Drawn by the star, a sign and a gift from God.

We have talked a great deal about light this Advent and Christmas season and yet there is more to be said. Arise! Shine! Isaiah says. It is both an invitation and a command. Last week, you listened as John wrote in the prologue to his gospel –

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Listen to it again out of the Message: “What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” That is the appearance of light and life that we celebrate today.

But Isaiah says, now that the light has come, WE are to shine. Jesus affirms this command too in his sermon on the mount. He says “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. [15] Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. [16] In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

So how does this work? How are we to shine? Perhaps we are to do the same kind of thing for others as the star over Bethlehem did for the wise men The star drew those wise men to come and worship Jesus by its light and it’s position. So – why are we here in this place this morning? Perhaps it’s because we have been drawn to the light ourselves. Here we are, worshipping and praising the light, just as those wise men did at the end of their long journey. But the task is not done; the quest is not over. Isaiah and our Savior are both emphatic – Shine! The light has come – It has appeared to us and it is present in the world. Now it is our turn to draw others.

Well, if we are to shine, if we are to draw others as we have been drawn ourselves, then perhaps we should pause for a moment and ponder what that means from a couple of directions.

First there is the direction of outside to inside, coming from darkness into the light. This is something, depending on our experience, we may or may not understand. Those wise men were foreigners, Gentiles, outsiders. They were strangers coming on a journey they could not have fully understood – yet they were drawn to come anyway. They came and searched and were accepted and worshipped. For those who grew up in the church, that feeling of being outside may never have occurred to us. For many others though, it is all too real. This fellowship of believers may well be foreign territory to them- inside their very own town, a strange place with strange words and strange rituals and songs they do not know. How are they to be drawn? What will they find if they come? Will their gifts be accepted? What light from here will show them the way? These are serious questions, worth serious thought. Isaiah says Arise, Shine! … Nations will come to your light. Jesus says “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

There is also the reciprocal direction of inside to outside to consider too: Light shining out into the darkness. Not to be swallowed up and lost, but shining as a beacon, A light set on the hill. Just as that star came to rest over Bethlehem, drawing the wise men to the Christ child. What about us is going to make Christ known today? Let us start here, in the center, and remind ourselves of what we have found. Is it friendship and belonging? Yes, certainly, but there is more. Could it be that we have discovered that the personality that formed that entire cosmos, notices and cares for us? That the God of the universe broke into this world as one of us. That he loves us so much that he would give his very life to save us and bring us to live with him forever. That he graciously pardons our faults and gives us strength and courage to face the challenges of life. That we are accepted, wanted, sought and loved because of who God is, not because of who we are now, or were before we came. Yes, to all of that and more. If that doesn’t make you at least glow a little bit, I don’t understand why not. Except perhaps that it requires us to be open and a bit vulnerable. To admit openly that we need and rely on the grace of God, to confess that we are not complete or whole without him. To do that in this otherwise dark world is to shine. It makes us a beacon on a hill. Obvious and different, yet attractive and winsome.

Eberhard Arnold was German writer and theologian who lived and wrote in the early years of last century. In his book “When the Time was Fulfilled”, he wrote: “The miracle of God not only comes from above; it also comes through us; it is also dwelling in us. It has been given to every person, and it lies in every soul as something divine, and it waits. Calling, it waits for the hour when the soul shall open itself, having found its God and its home. When this is so, the soul will not keep its wealth to itself, but will let it flow out onto the world. Wherever love proceeds from us and becomes truth, the time is fulfilled.”

With those words, we are invited to claim the gift that is ours and to share its light so that others may see it, and come to the light as well. Each year, our General Presbytery Gordon Edwards sends out a note on Christmas morning. Several years ago he closed with this prayer:

Lord, may I be a daily ray of the life giving light in the midst of individual and global darkness:

Where there is: May I, with the help of the Spirit bring:

Darkness of Fear Light of Courage

Darkness of Exclusion Light of Inclusion

Darkness of Violence Light of Service

Darkness of Despair Light of Hope

Darkness of Ignorance Light of Revelation

Darkness of Addiction Light of Healing

Darkness of Arrogance Light of Humility

Darkness of Intimidation Light of Affirmation

Darkness of Power. Light of Community

Darkness of Rejection Light of Love

May we reflect your glory and grace in all that we say and do. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.