Sunday, January 3, 2021

Epiphany 2021-B: The cooperative reality of light and dark


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

En el nombre del Dios: que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

Happy Epiphany! There’s something hopeful about celebrating a season of revelation after being neck-deep in the darkness of COVID this past year. The recent development of a vaccine gives us hope of an eventual reinstatement of hugs, parties, dinners out, and in-person worship.

There’s a sense of relief, of excitement, and expectation in the season of Epiphany. The language in this season is all about light and darkness. Darkness, for most of us, is where monsters hide under our beds; where danger lurks in the shadows; where evil lies in wait, and where we are most vulnerable.

This concept of light as good and dark as bad, when applied to people, however, affirms all kinds of un-Christian behavior, and we’ve been doing it long enough now to call it tradition, rather than what it is: racism. With the revelations about the truth of our structural and institutional racism this last year, there’s been talk on church social media about not using the language of light and dark this season, but I think that would be a mistake.

Perhaps instead, we can recover and apply the inherent goodness and beauty of darkness. Then the startling, transforming truth of the light has a proper context.

In the first chapter of Genesis, the creation story says, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…Then God spoke and there was light. And God separated the light from the darkness…and called the light Day and the darkness Night.” (Gen 1: 2-5) And you’ll remember later in that story, God called all that had been created not just good, but very good. That includes the darkness and the night.

It is by the design of God that a seed breaks its shell in the deep darkness of the soil and sprouts new life. It was in the darkness of the tomb that Jesus broke the power of death and gave us new life in him.

Darkness is the womb of God and in it, new life is created. It isn’t bad and we needn’t fear or avoid or judge it.

We need the darkness. We need to sleep, to rest and restore our bodies, and allow our minds to process the events of our lives in our dreams – where we also just might hear the voice of God if we open to the possibility.

So much of our culture: our music, literature, movies, even our churches, promote a binary perspective: rich-poor, black-white, good guy-bad-guy, saved-condemned. It’s a natural way for us to approach things. There’s a whole part of our brain whose function it is to do just that - to split everything into two categories. It helps us organize our world - what is safe and what isn’t, what is right and what is wrong, what is worthy of our attention and what isn’t.

The problem comes in when we judge - which Jesus said over and over again that we shouldn’t do when it comes to people. As believers, we also have a problem when rely on ourselves and our own judgment rather than on God’s.

Just for the fun of it, what if we could take sides in a light vs dark contest? What if we could put assign some to be on the light side, and others on the dark side? Then what if we judged those on the light side as good, and those on the dark side as bad? Literature and movies do this for us all the time, affirming the misguided habit of judging both by human measure.

It’s an easy step then, to justify killing all of those on the dark side because they are bad, right? Most religious wars, including our own Crusades, apply this faulty thinking.

So, what would happen if one side were to completely win? We all would be destroyed - literally and figuratively.

If the good light were to “win” and vanquish the bad darkness completely, our earth would overheat and burn. The unrelenting brightness would eventually blind us, and we’d lose our natural rhythms of sleep and wakefulness, which can lead to insanity and death. We need darkness, and we need to remember and embody how to love it and receive its treasure.

Thankfully, as we heard last week, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. (Jn 1:5) The light is not the enemy of the dark. The two work together to reveal the glory of God, for it is in the darkness that the light shines.

In our time, we rarely experience true darkness anymore. Nightlights softly illumine our hallways, bathrooms, and nurseries. They make it easy for us to get to the bathroom at night without stubbing our toes, but, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, they steal from us the “treasure of the night.” That treasure, she says, is God. (Source: Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor)

Like the people Isaiah was writing about, we too have been through a period of great trial and difficulty. And like the people of Israel, we have been delivered, but our deliverance has placed new obstacles before us, obstacles we have to work together to overcome.

Epiphany reminds us of the importance of the cooperative reality of light and dark, each being beautiful and important to life. It also reminds us that God can and does lead us to the middle of nowhere, just as the star-gazers were led to the child Jesus, so that new life can be revealed.

Life glorifies God. New life is always the work of God and God reveals it to those of us willing to travel into the darkness to find it.

As a church we can lead the way - fearlessly, expectantly - into any darkness because we know “the boundless riches of Christ,” and we can be the means by which others come to know that too. We can lead the way because we know that entering the darkness is entering the womb of God, where new life is being formed.

This will be important as we all find our way through the darkness of the -isms that were revealed about us in 2020 to the new life being formed for us by God in 2021.

Let us pray… God of all, let our church become your womb; a place of rest and spiritual refreshment for all souls; a place where new life is created in us and through us into your world; a place where we love and serve in your name. Renew us and make us whole; that we may arise, shine, and live in the glory of the light of your love. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

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