Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany, 2019: Giving ourselves to the Light

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

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

I was re-watching a favorite movie recently: “Under the Tuscan Sun” and was reminded that, in Italian, the phrase ‘to give birth’ translates literally as ‘to give to the light.’ The same is true in Spanish: ‘para dar a luz”… to give to the light. Isn’t that a powerful phrase?

If there’s any time we know we are co-creators with God it’s when we participate in or witness the birth of a child. During the birth there is that moment when the baby passes from the dark, protective environment of the womb, into the light of its delivery room where we receive the gift of this new life – and all of our worlds are changed.

Likewise, when we baptize a child of God, we hear the priest proclaim: “receive the light of Christ” as we light their baptismal candle from the Paschal candle, and we remember the power of the light we are giving them. It isn’t just a candle – it’s the light of Christ. We give them to the Light.

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the end of the season of Christmas. Some Episcopalians follow the celebration of Holy Eucharist with the de-greening of the church and a burning of the greens. It’s beautiful symbolism – and besides, who doesn’t love a good bonfire?!

Think about it - to stand in the presence of the great light of an Epiphany fire, and to feel its warmth is to make truly manifest the message of this day. It connects us to our forebears who followed the light throughout their exile, until they arrived at the promised land; and the shepherds who followed the light to the Christ-child. It also points us toward our future – a future as uncertain for us as it was for our forbears; a future that requires us to keep moving relying totally on the Light to guide us.

Standing in the presence of the great light of an Epiphany fire connects us to the experience of the magi, who, as Matthew tells us, traveled a great distance to visit the newborn Messiah. These visitors were probably Zoroastrians, members of a religious group from that time and place who studied the stars – astrologers, who also interpreted dreams. Matthew calls them magi, the source of the words magic and magician, casting them as sorcerers – not a welcomed group among Jews.

According to Zoroastrian belief, every person is connected to a star. This presence of this unusual and magnificent star signified the birth of an unusual and magnificent person. It was so compelling to them that they packed up their camels and loaded up their treasure chests and headed out to Jerusalem to find the person connected to this amazing star.

Although the hymn tells us there were three wise men or magi, we don’t actually know how many people followed that star. Scripture tells us they brought three gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar first turned up in a 5th century Greek manuscript and later in a story associated with a 6th century mosaic in an Italian church.

When the magi caravan saw that the start had stopped, these visitors, like the shepherds who also saw a great light, were overwhelmed with joy. When Mary and Joseph welcomed them into their house, and the visitors saw the baby Jesus, they knelt before him and paid him homage – a gesture of servitude.

This is a powerful moment in this story as it is the moment the light of the world caused an historical wall to come tumbling down – the wall between the Jews and Gentiles. In that moment, the revelation of God in Christ brought divine unity where there had been centuries of human division.

The magi came ready for an unusual encounter, and their response upon finding Jesus was two-fold: 1) they bowed or knelt before this baby king showing him respect; and 2) they opened their treasure chests to give generously the kinds of gifts typically given to a king: gold (a symbol of earthly wealth and power), frankincense (a symbol of spiritual power – used in the anointing of kings and priests), and myrrh (an expensive plant extract often used by royalty as a perfume and as medicine, and also used to prepare a body for burial). The Gentile magi gave to the Light.

Matthew ends the story telling us that these visiting Gentiles heard in a dream that they should not return to Herod, so they went home a different way. God guided these “non-believers” in the way they should go and remarkably, they listened and obeyed, defying human political authority.

As we celebrate our thanks on this Feast of the Epiphany, we might ask ourselves: what light compels us as much as the magi were compelled? Does being in the presence of God in Christ bring us to our knees? How many of us, in the presence of our Redeemer, open our treasure chests and freely give gifts that reflect what we’ve been given? If we heard the voice of God in a dream, would we listen and obey it – even if it meant defying human political authority?

As Isaiah sings: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you…” Though our path forward may be uncertain at times, and we may have to stop and ask directions, we know we can trust the One who leads, and so we are compelled to go on – together – a community of people who are both followers of and bearers of the light of Christ; co-creators with God of life in our world.

Look around, Isaiah says, they all gather and come to you… When outsiders show up, drawn by the radiance of God’s Light, we welcome them, just as Mary and Joseph welcomed the magi caravan, and we accept the gifts they bring. One guaranteed outcome is the light of divine unity overcoming the darkness of human division.

This feast day calls us to remember that the light of Christ continues to break into the darkness of the world and compels us to follow wherever it leads. It calls us to remember that when the light breaks into the world it brings down human-made walls and divinely unifies those whom humans have divided.

So in confidence and with boldness borne of our faith, we who are the church, co-create our world as servants of the good news of the revelation of God in Christ; giving all we are and all we have to the Light.


No comments: