Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epiphany Sermon 2010

January 3, 2010
Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12
Epiphany Sunday

Did you ever watch cartoons when you were growing up? Particularly this morning I am remembering a cartoon I love called Tom and Jerry. You’ve probably seen this one- it’s a classic and perpetual chase, an epic battle between cat and mouse. One interesting thing about Tom and Jerry that makes it unlike its more modern counterparts is that there is no dialog in any of their cartoons. Tom, the cat is always trying to get ahead of his tiny counterpart Jerry, but the mouse seems usually to be a touch smarter than his feline friend. I love the moment in a cartoon like Tom and Jerry when one of the characters gets a great idea. You know a cartoon character has a brilliant idea when you see something appear over there head- do you know what it is? A light bulb! When a light bulb appears over your head- you have clarity about something that was previously unclear, you have inside knowledge and understanding, you have wisdom, you might even say you’ve had an epiphany.

An epiphany is a sudden insight into the essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple occurrence or experience. ( We think of an epiphany as the “ah ha!” moment in a story; the moment when everything becomes clear. When you have an epiphany- the light bulb is switched on over your head. I mentioned during communion a few weeks ago one of my favorite literary epiphanies is the moment where the cruel and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge realizes after looking at his life through the lens three ghostly visits that he is not the kind of person he wants to be. He awakes with joy on Christmas morning and realizes that it is not too late to change (it never is). Charles Dickens writes of his character at the end of the story, “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City knew, or any other good old city, town or borough in the good old world.” Epiphanies happen, people change and it makes for an incredibly good story.

The primary meaning of the word epiphany has to do with our not-quite-yet-finished Christmas story. The church celebrates Epiphany each January sixth. As efficient as we like to be about taking down our Christmas decorations, Christmas in the church is a season. January sixth is the twelfth day after Christmas and on that day we celebrate the arrival of the wise men with the Christ-child. We celebrate these mysterious, gentile seekers who came to see Jesus after following a star that guided them to Bethlehem. Actually the wise men were lead to Jerusalem because as scholar Walter Bruggeman says “Like Matthew, the wise men know about Isaiah 60.” Isaiah’s prophecy is about the restoration of Israel, of Jerusalem herself, of light coming to God’s people and camels coming from all over bringing gifts of gold and frankincense. Only God’s gift isn’t actually in the holy city of Jerusalem, but in the humble town of Bethlehem, about nine miles off the mark.

This Epiphany, we glory in the way God chose to send the light of the world to us. This Epiphany Sunday the light bulb goes on over our heads as the Christmas story all seems to fit together into one great “ah ha!” moment. We have been sent the light of God, and that light is Jesus Christ. The light has come to us in a human life. We have God who comes to us in the flesh to walk around in the world and show us the way life is supposed to work and how we are supposed to treat other people. How will we respond to the fact that we have received God’s light? Isaiah says, “arise, shine for your light has come!” Now is the time for us to arise, and shine in response to the light of God that has been sent to us. How will we do it- how will we shine?

The wise men came bringing important and expensive gifts for the baby Jesus; this is how they celebrated the light. These gifts were not, as any good mother could see, really for the baby himself, but they were the kind of gifts you would give religious royalty. They are actually the kind of gifts you give for ceremonies- frankincense to burn in the temple, myrrh to prepare a body for burial (could the wise men possibly have anticipating the end of Jesus’ life as soon as it began?), and gold, a gift of worth and beauty. These gifts are gifts of preparation- preparing for worship, preparing for death, preparing for something important and beautiful.

How can we prepare the sanctuary of our hearts to receive the gift of Christ that God has given us? Are there thoughts and attitudes and actions that need to be swept away so we can receive the gift of God’s light? Are there steps we need to take; devotions and scriptures we need to read; prayers we need to pray so that our hearts a sanctuary for God’s light to reside? If there is preparation to be done, let’s do it now at this time of newness both in the church year and in the world so that we may enter into 2010 filled with God’s light.

God didn’t just put the light inside the Christ-child you know, the light came to each one of us. God scattered the light to all of creation when the gift of Christ was given. God’s light now dwells in each one of us and God is calling to us this day, to “arise, and shine” for our light has come.

Personally, I love it that we are reminded of the light and warmth of God in the dead of winter, because it is COLD- and we need a little light. We called to take the light of God’s love and shine it to others so that their darkness might be illuminated. However, I think rising and shining is really hard to do when it is 16 degrees outside and all we want to do is stay home when it is dark and cold outside. I bet some of you found it really challenging to get out of your warm bed and get ready to come to church this morning, In fact, I’m sure there are some who just couldn’t face the cold and darkness to get out and join us here this morning. I feel sorry for them though because I am about to tell you some really good news. The days are getting longer. The darkest day of the year, the day with the least minutes of sunlight happens on December 21st. We’ve passed that hurdle, we celebrated the birth of Jesus and with him he brought a little more light to our part of the world. “Arise, shine for your light has come!” The darkness never wins you know, as dark as things may seem we know that darkness will never prevail because God has sent the light to dwell within each of us.

On this Epiphany Sunday we acknowledge that God is the bringer, the giver, the source of the light that is within us. Preacher Dianne Bergant says that the Gospel of reminds us “that God, not the social or political structures of the day, is the source of our light…The light has come, and we are invited to live in it. How have we responded to the invitation?”

The invitation is ours- live in the light God beckons. “Your heart shall thrill and rejoice” at the coming of the light Isaiah says. We make a choice how we respond to the coming of God’s light in Jesus Christ. Do we allow the circumstances around us to consume us in darkness, or do we look around and find the signs of God’s light all around? Do we thrill and rejoice at the sheer amazing awesomeness of what God has done, or do we ignore it?

This Sunday I wish for you an Epiphany. I pray for you that “light bulb going on over your head” feeling as you open up your heart to receive the light of God. That light is love, shown to each one of us by a God who loves us without judgment and proved it by giving his beloved Son as a gift to the world.
Finally I want to share some lyrics from a favorite song of mine. James Taylor sings about asking God to “Shed a Little Light”. Let this be our prayer this morning.

“Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest

Can't get no light from the dollar bill
Don't give me no light from a tv screen
When I open my eyes
I wanna drink my fill
From the well on the hill

Shed a little light, oh lord
So that we can see
Just a little light, oh lord
Shed a little light, oh lord”

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