The celebration of Epiphany (RCL readings for January 6th or closest Sunday, Matthew 2:1-12) reminds us that the coming of the light into the world disturbed the darkness. This is a spiritual truth that we still see at work in our political world, our church politics, our family gatherings and in our own self as we seek to follow the light.
Matthew’s gospel is the only one that has this story of the magi, or wise ones, from the east bringing gifts for the new born king. It is a fascinating story full of light and darkness, celebration and threat, hope and fear. Unlike the joy with which the shepherds responded to the good news heralded by angels in Luke’s gospel, in this story when the people of Israel – King Herod and all Jerusalem – hear the good news of a new king being born all are afraid!
It’s a sobering troubling story so soon after the joy and innocence of Christmas. But in this Jesus story I think we are meant to understand that with the arrival of THE baby – the divine made flesh – everything was about to be turned on its head including what and who was important and what power and leadership meant, what being chosen and belonging meant, what liberation and salvation meant. No wonder the powers that were – King Herod and all the important ones in Jerusalem - were afraid and stirred up. This was historically a moment of major shift. We recognise this looking backward by dividing human history into Before Christ and then After Death or more recently and inclusively we speak of the Common Era and Before the Common Era. We can still see such disturbance in our outer political and social world today. We see this struggle between light and dark, inclusion and division, and all the “isms” of our age.
And I think this phenomenon happens psychologically to us as individuals. When we get near to what we have longed for something gets stirred up. When the light comes into our lives then the darkness - fear/doubt/envy/ resistance – gets stirred up as well. We might like to think that as humans we are motivated by a desire for the light, for all that is good and loving. But why then do most of us do the human shuffle – two steps forward and then one to the side and a stumble backward, pause, and then start all over again. And so we progress toward our goal gaining a step at a time. If it were all nice and rational we would just smoothly progress in the direction of our dreams. But that’s not how most of us experience life.
So what are we to do with this story in our own time and life? Well I think we should hear our longing for the Messiah – for the holy and healing one – as affirmed. I think we might have a last look in the manger and see that the one on whom the star shone down was small and vulnerable, ordinary and available to seekers, to the humble, to those who wanted change.
And just as those long ago wise ones brought gifts, gave their most valued possessions, to the Child of God so too we are called to give our best and our all to the great task of life. Some may speak of the need for salvation. Others may speak of the search for their true home – the Source. And others more simply are looking for a reason to get up in the morning with a sense of purpose and hope.
The language of Isaiah the prophet is beautiful in its invocation of light. But in a world of problems and anxiety about possible future problems the call to arise and be a light is not just poetry it is an urgent call to live lives that at every level speak hope and confidence in what matters most. It is an act of faith and testimony to the light to bring children into the world. It is an act of faith and testimony to the light to bring those children to baptism and to ask that they be blessed and signed as God’s. It is an act of faith and testimony to the light to plant a fruit tree that will bear fruit long after we have gone. It is an act of faith and testimony to the light to sing songs of love and worship when the notes shall only last a moment in the air.
And yet this is what we are called to do as people of faith – to declare life sacred with hope. Sacred because of the hope that God brought into the world in Jesus. And sacred because of the hope we find in response to this good news. We are called to live and work in the thousand small ways that are the stuff of the everyday and to dare to take the big actions that the world need.
The prophet says to ‘Arise and shine, for your light has come’ and the church asks each one of us to ‘Shine as a light of Christ in the world to the glory of God’. Each of us is again and again called to look for the star of hope and follow it to where the real hope is – in the divine made flesh in the Child of God - and to make that real in the thousand small and large decisions of each day. Some days are easier than others but every day offers opportunities to shine as a light to others and offers choices to gravitate toward the light that others bring into our world. This is how Christmas makes its way out of the stable and into our life.
Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, come lighten our darkness.