January 4, 2015
Psalm 72:1–7, 10–14
Those who were here on Christmas morning might recall that our Gospel text began with this powerful/mysterious line: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the word WAS God.” Which strikes me as I read today’s Gospel lesson, because in it Jesus is a pre-verbal baby. By the time the Magi arrive from their homes far away to worship the Baby Jesus, he’s probably about two years old. He may be called The Word, but his vocabulary may only have included words like “Mama,” or “milk.” 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 the Foster family might verify, seems to be all they ever do. In today’s lesson, and throughout the season of Epiphany, I think we might find that it is primarily through LIGHT, rather than LANGUAGE, that the Word of God is communicating.
The light of a star leads the wise foreigners to seek out the new King. Later, visions in the darkness reveal to these wise seekers that they should not return to King Herod, but travel home “by a different way.” In our Old Testament reading, Isaiah urges his hearers, “Arise, shine, for our light has come.” Even in our Midwestern winter, which has been unusually dark this year, light has started to come. We’ve turned the corner from increasing darkness to that time of year when the days are getting longer. 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.
What do you think the wise men saw on that first Epiphany when they finally ended their journey and peeked into Jesus’ crib? Did they immediately know that they had found the one they were looking for? Or was there an awkward 15 minutes or so 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 dawn gradually for them as they had tea with Mary and Joseph, talking about how their journey had unfolded? At some point they obviously determined that Jesus was indeed the object of their quest, because when they depart, they leave precious and expensive gifts for him.
And that is the last we ever hear of those wise foreigners in Matthew’s Gospel or any of the Scriptures. I wonder what they talked about on the long ride home? What impact did this experience have on their lives when they got back home? What did they tell their wives and children about their trip? Did visiting 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 their whole adventure simply become a strange story they discussed only with each other, late at night?
I wonder if, when they got back to their ordinary lives, 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? Did they know he 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 was executed, 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. And it leads me to ponder how we react to the light that has come into the world. Is anything in your life different now than it was two weeks ago? Is there any change in how we see the world? Did Christmas imbue in anyone the courage of the wise ones to get up and follow where God’s 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, 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.” These are not just words for the newly baptized—although surely God says that to Emilia today too—but 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.
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 Word of truth: God has always loved us. 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 and people we thought we’d always know, always understand, or always have near. We will encounter death. But at the core of it all that has been and all that is to come shines this gleaming light: we are God’s beloved. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. Ever.
So, dear friends, “Arise, shine, your light has come!” In a dark world, it is our turn to act as wise ones. 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.