Epiphany C: Blink Into the Light

Readings:

  • Isaiah 60:1-6
  • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
  • Ephesians 3:1-12
  • Matthew 2:1-12

You can find the readings, in CEB and NRSV translations, here.

Sermon

Do you know that “it is the Day of Epiphany?  The journey of Christmas, which began with the promise of the coming of Emmanuel, is coming to a close. We have witnessed the birth of the child born in Bethlehem of Judea (Luke 2), and now we celebrate the light that shines in the darkness, guiding the nations to the child who reveals the light of God to the world.”[1]

This Christmas season I decided to use my Facebook account to post an image that I found and thought about that had to do with the twelve days of Christmas.  I began on the third day with three French hens.  And, yesterday, I posted the last one.  12 Drummers.  Or, at least, an image that related to it. I have been amused by the comments these last 12 days: a number of “Oh, I hate that song…” to a number of people singing along or commenting positively on the images each day.  It’s been a great little experiment of sharing a little bit of Christmas light each day as I’ve prepared for today.

On another Facebook account, I have been observing three Playmobil Wisemen named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, and a camel named Hezekiah, travel star-ward since December 2nd, the day their star appeared.  Their shenanigans are highly amusing – from arguing about which way to go, to being distracted by puzzles, snacks, board games, slow moving turtles, self-professed celestial beings, dinosaurs, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.  The Wandering Wisemen is an account that brings a lot of levity to my morning routine and to another 9,000 people around the world as well.  A little bit of light shining into our lives.

Today’s gospel reading reminds us that those wandering star-charters are arriving at their destination:

10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. [Matthew 2:10-11, NRSV]

We don’t know a lot about these travellers – the gospels carry conflicting stories, as do many of our biblical interpretations and hymns and church Christmas pageants.  The conversation amongst some of my colleagues this past week have revolved around trying to understand these road-weary light-seekers a little better.  Who were they?  Where did they come from?  Why did they ‘traverse afar’?

What Matthew shares with us is that they simply show up in Jerusalem from the East.  They go to the ruler of the place and enquire where they can find the foretold King of the Jews.  Surprises for everyone.  World-shattering, comfort-displacing, status quo-upheaval, kinds of surprises.  Discovering that it has happened, unobserved by the most dedicated of Jewish people, I would imagine, could be terrifying.  Learning that there is born a child who is the true leader of the people of Israel, I would imagine, could be worrisome to a current overseer of Roman occupation.

But, that there would be a birth is not revelatory to everyone.  The Chief priest and the scribes are able to explain to Herod where this anticipated birth ought to happen.

So, Herod plots.  Secret machinations of a dictator bent on maintaining power and control.

It’s after reading this gospel lesson a couple of times that my questions begin to surface.  Why weren’t the Chief priests and scribes tipped off by Herod’s question?  It certainly seems utterly random and obscure.  Did no one in Jerusalem recognize this unnumbered group of travellers on the way to Bethlehem and ask what they were up to?  Or, even the people who overheard these wisepeople asking for an audience with Herod?  I’m sure that was an interesting conversation to overhear.  Why didn’t the chief priests and scribes make their way, or even send someone in their stead, to Bethlehem to check things out?

I don’t have definitive answers for my questions, and I’m sure I don’t have answers for most of the questions you might have.  But, I like and welcome questions about biblical texts, because I feel like these questions are little bits of light poking through the status quo, the comforts of our normal, and the shadows of a world that strives to ignore God in the midst of it all.    Like the wizened travellers, disrupting our Christmas expectations and in-dwellings, and prod at us to look for the source of light.

This past week, I had my yearly appointment with an eye specialist.  I sat in a darkened room, waiting to see if he would dilate my eyes on a day when I would rather be looking at things than waiting for my eyes to readjust to normal.  He came in, sat down, administered eyeball-numbing liquids and began his tests.  For 10 minutes, he shone various lights in my eyes and asked me to focus on his ears.  Do you know how hard it is to ignore a bright light shining directly into your eyes?!  Your brain and your eyes are at war with each other.  Your eyes desperately want to focus on what is directly before them and your brain is curious, but is working hard to follow the instructions you were given.  In that battle, something weird can happen.  My vision went wholly out of my control and, for a moment, I felt like the room was suddenly spinning as my eyes were fixing to completely different points in the room.  “You have to blink,” the doctor told me, “Blink, and try again.  Keep blinking.”  When we dwell in darkness, a little bit of light can be a source of comfort and a place to focus, or it can be an unwelcome pain, disturbing what we’ve determined as our normal.

Regardless of how we react to it, however, the light beckons to us.

This Christmas child, a beacon of true Light, does something like that, but more.  The discovery of the Christ child is really only the beginning of something brilliant, spectacular, and awesome.

God, shining in the midst of the world, illuminates even the darkest places and shines promises of truth, justice, grace, mercy, love, and so much more.

I suppose we could try not to focus on it.  We might even succeed for a little while.  There are many days when it feels like that is exactly what the world is trying its best to do.  But, I imagine that our bodies might fall into a similar kind of war as at my eye appointment.  The world spins and seems entirely out of control and out of our control.  And, maybe, God says, “You have to blink.  Blink and try again.  Keep blinking.”  Or, at least, that’s kind of how I feel about Christmas – little spots of light, shining brilliantly around us and reminding us to look for the source.  Epiphany light shining fully – illuminating all the ways God is in the midst of us, calling out for us, shining spectacularly for us, beckoning to us to come and see.  To come and be.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. [Isaiah 60:1, NRSV]

Epiphany is the season when the star stops.  We pause after the season of Christmas, and blink.  And bask in the Light shining in the midst of us.  I think it is a season for us to be overwhelmed with the joy of all the ways God loves the world so much.  I think it might just be a season for us to find comfort and focus in the light, enabling us to shine outward.  Little bits of light disrupting the darkness that maybe surrounds so many others around us, that surrounds the world about us.

May your Epiphany season bring questions and a desire to blink.  May your Epiphany season be a time of wonder and excitement.  May your Epiphany season be a time of discovering all the ways God shows up in the midst of us.

Amen.

[1] Bob Cornwall.  “Gathered at the Light – Lectionary Reflections for Epiphany CPonderings on a Faith Journey


This week’s image is entitled, “Glass,” created by the brilliant Philip Barlow.

The image is being used without permission, and is presented solely for education and admiration.  Reproduction from this page is discouraged.  You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here.  The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.

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