January 8, 2012
Our text on Christmas morning began: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the word WAS God.” Which strikes me as interesting as I read today’s Gospel lesson. Because on this occasion, the festival of Epiphany, Jesus is a pre-verbal baby. When the Magi arrived from their homes far away, Jesus was probably about two years old. So his vocabulary might have included words like “Mama,” or “milk,” but certainly he was not yet telling parables about the kingdom of God or preaching about the meek inheriting the earth. He was doing ordinary baby things like sleeping and crying and eating and pooping—which in my limited experience of babies seems to be all they ever do. It is not through words that God reaches out at this time. In today’s lesson, and I think throughout the season of Epiphany, we might find that it is primarily through LIGHT that God is communicating.
It is the light of a star that leads the wise foreigners to seek out the new King. And later it is visions in the darkness that reveal to these wise seekers that they should not return to King Herod, but travel home a different way. In our Old Testament reading, Isaiah urges his hearers to “Arise, shine, for our light has come.” Even in our Midwestern winter, which can be a pretty dark time, light has come. We’ve turned the corner from increasing darkness to that time of year when the days are getting longer. So as the light increases, let us be intentional about taking time to look, to see how God is present and at work among and around us.
I wonder what the wise men saw on that first Epiphany? When they finally ended their journey and arrived in the presence of the Baby Jesus, what did they see when they peeked into his crib? Did they immediately know that they had found the one they were looking for? Or were the first 15 minutes or so an awkward time when they weren’t quite sure? Did he grab their beards and look deeply into their eyes and convey to them the truth? Or did the light come on gradually for them as they had tea with Mary and Joseph, all talking about how their journey had unfolded?
At some point they obviously determined that Jesus was indeed the object of their quest, for when they depart, they leave precious and expensive gifts for him. And that is the last we ever hear of those wise foreigners. I often wonder what they talked about on the long ride home. What impact did it have on their lives when they got back home? What did they tell their wives and children about their trip? Did seeing the king who was not a king change the way they worked and prayed and spent their riches? Once you’ve “seen the light” does it affect how everything else looks? Or did it become simply a strange story that they talked about only with each other late at night?
I wonder if, when they got back to their homes, they followed what happened to the baby. Did they know that when King Jesus grew up, he did not rule like any of the kings who ruled before him? Did they hear stories about King Jesus, stories about how he never conquered a country or killed or wounded anyone? Never held a public office, or made a fortune? Did they know that instead, he wandered the countryside, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and comforting the grieving? Did they know that when he touched the excluded ones, taught the ignorant, and welcomed the strangers, he left hope in his path? Did they hear the news that when Jesus died, it was under a sign that read, “King of the Jews”? Did they anticipate any of that when they left gifts at the side of his crib?
It’s fascinating to consider. But for today, I’m interested in pondering not how other people reacted to encountering Jesus, but how we react to the light that has come into the world. How do we see the world that God has made in the light of God’s revelation of love through the Baby Jesus? Do we have the courage of the wise ones, the courage to get up and follow where this bright morning star is leading? Are we wise enough to seek him, not in beautiful buildings where we think the king should be, but in the pain-ridden, bloody, dark corners of the earth? And if we find, not a mighty ruler, but a vulnerable baby, will we know what we have seen? How do we live, once we have seen God? Maybe, on our good days, we might recognize we had a glimpse of the Divine. Such occasions might be called Epiphanies. But my hunch is that just as often, we may not recognize what is right in front of our eyes.
This is the Good News, my friends. This is what Christmas, the coming of God to and through humanity, is all about: whether or not we know how and where to find God, whether or not we seek God, whether or not we even WANT to seek God, daily God seeks us and reveals Godself to us.
Daily Jesus reveals himself to us in tangible ways, offering us his body and blood, his Word, his promises, his actions. Daily the Creator bends over us whispering through the wind and the water, the mountains and the sunlight, the rocks and the snow, “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.” Daily, the Holy Spirit blows through our lives and makes it possible for us to act in ways we did not know we could. Daily, we receive the blessing of being able to start again. In many and various ways—a star or a dream or a baby or an opportunity to give a gift or a thirst for knowledge—God sends us invitations and opportunities to stream toward the light, to be renewed, strengthened, and enriched. Daily, God is here, if we just look.
During this season of Epiphany, I hope that as we wash our faces or our dishes, as we work and laugh and eat and cry and learn, we will be attuned to signs everywhere of this essential truth: God has always loved us. And God will always love us. We are God’s beloved. We are. Nothing and no one can take this gift from us. In this new year, we will endure suffering. You know that as well as I do. We will have to say goodbye to things we thought we’d always know, always understand, or always have. We will encounter death. But at the core of it all shines this gleaming light: we are God’s beloved. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. Ever.
So, Arise, shine, your light has come! It is our turn to act as wise ones now. In the midst of a dark world, we are called to live in the Light and to shine with God’s radiance in all our days. We have a star to follow, a story to tell, a journey to make, and so, so much to learn! Let’s follow the wise ones that Matthew describes, so rich in courage and in generosity and in faith. Let’s learn from strangers how to honor dreams, how to offer our treasures to the unlikely Prince of Peace, and how to reflect the light that shines in the darkness. Amen.
~Pastor Susan Schneider