Sunday, January 3, 2009

Epiphany or Second Sunday of Christmas
Isaiah 6-:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12
Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12
Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom 10:15-21
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:[1-9] 10-18

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee.

We went to visit one of those drive-through Christmas light displays a few nights ago. This particular drive is on twelve acres of land, nearly a mile long with 1.5 million lights. They have everything from a huge tree to a playful winter wonderland, biblical stories from Noahís Ark to the Exodus to Bethlehem and the Nativity and even the cross and empty tomb. Finally the drive winds through the North Pole with Santa and the elves skiing in between dealing with final Christmas preparations. It is a cute place with lots of lights to see. It is also a little tacky, with a few blow-up displays and Santa playing football. But then, how can you put that many lights into one place without getting tacky?

I took my camera along, just in case I could get some decent pictures. It is very hard to get good shots of Christmas lights. It takes a very steady hand, which is especially hard when you are in a moving car. It didnít help that I could only aim at the displays on the passenger side of the vehicle. Since there were many cars on the drive, you couldnít stop very long to enjoy anything. And you couldnít get out to enjoy anything up close. I tried taking a few pictures, but most of them came out blurred. I eventually realized that I didnít need to try so hard to document the displays, but instead found it fascinating to photograph the light. I purposely held the camera so that the lights would blur, leaving lines of color instead of identifiable characters or scenes. I focused on the light and the pictures have given me patterns that I may be able to use in some interesting creation.

It is hard to pay attention to just one thing as you drive through one of those light displays. Just as you are beginning to understand the scene, your attention is caught by the next lights. I found myself looking back and forth, from one side of the street to another, trying to catch everything. As we turned a corner, a light flickered or a moving display made us look in a new direction. We were drawn to the light.

Have you ever driven through Kansas at night, along the interstate highway? You can go for mile after mile in darkness. The only lights are the ones on the cars. Occasionally you will spot a light in the distance; mile after mile you drive without seeing any change in the light, it is almost as if it must be moving away from us because we never catch up to it. Eventually the light gets closer and then passes by, illuminating the porch of a ranch house in the middle of nowhere. Those lights always gave us hope in the night.

Light penetrates darkness. It doesnít take very much light to change a dark room. A candle flickering in darkness makes things visible. A flashlight in a dark forest helps guide the way. Christmas lights on a house help make the cold winter nights feel warm and cozy.

Epiphany is about light. The wise men noticed a new light in the sky and they followed it, knowing that it was a sign of something spectacular that has happened. The light was drawing those men to something. It caught their attention. And the light was not just a star in the sky. It was the living Christ, the Light of the world.

Isaiah writes, ďArise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee.Ē When we read the promises of the Old Testament, it is easy to think that they arenít for us today. After all, we are not Israel, we are not children of Jacob and we do not claim Abraham as our father. We are gentiles, foreigners from another time and place. We are thousands of miles from Jerusalem and thousands of years from the promises. How can this be for us?

Epiphany is defined as ďa sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.Ē Throughout the history of the Jews, God promised to send them a Messiah, a king who would deliver them from their bondage. The Old Testament is filled with words from the prophets and kings that speak of that promise and Godís faithfulness. The Jews longed for the day that promise would be fulfilled. In the passages we read for this Epiphany, we see that Christ has been revealed to the whole world. Isaiah writes, ďAnd nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.Ē Jesus Christ was the morning star; His birth was the dawn of a new age. He was light and He brought light into this dark world.

So, when the wise men saw the star (or the comet, or whatever astronomical phenomenon they saw), they knew that it was speaking of a change. They followed it, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. The nations did come to the light. The nations were not just Jews, but Gentiles. The promise was always for them, for the whole world. The wise men went to Jerusalem, because they found themselves in Israel and it made sense that the king would be born in the palace of the king. David was a great king of Israel who had drawn the nations. His son Solomon also drew the nations to Jerusalem as they sought his wisdom and brought gifts to honor him. Why would the King be born anywhere else?

The priests and scribes explained to Herod and the wise men the prophecy about Bethlehem. The Messiah would be born in the city of David. Herod sent the wise men to find this new king. He never wanted to worship Jesus. He was threatened by the birth of another king because he knew that his position was fragile. Though the Jews longed for the coming of the Messiah, Jerusalem was not ready to face the reality of what was happening. The Messiah might mean the salvation of Israel, but the coming also meant a radical shift from the status quo. What if the new king had new ideas? What if he not only ousted Herod, but also everyone else? They saw Him as an obstacleóa threatóto their way of life. Jesus was born among the Jews, but He came for us all. They did not recognize Him, they did not see Him as He truly is, the Lord incarnate sent to save the world from death and the grave.

Have you ever know one of those people who could draw people into their presence. There is something about them. They have a charisma, a special light that shines toward which others are moved. You canít help it; you want to be with them, to listen to them, to follow them. Jesus had that affect on the people. Not everyone sees the light that shines; some are repelled. I suppose Israel might have expected anything of God would have repelled the Gentiles. How could they believe in what God has done since they are not part of Godís chosen? Yet, we find in this story a reversal. The light shines in the darkness and those in the darkness have seen it. Those who thought they were in the light missed it.

This is the mystery. Israel never expected that the Gentiles would understand Godís hand in the world, and yet it was Godís hand that brought the Gentiles to witness the child. Paul realized quickly during his ministry that heíd take the Good News to those outside Israel. He was the least of all the apostles because he was made an apostle apart from the twelve. Yet, from the very beginning, Paul knew His mission: to take the Good News to the whole world. It wasnít clear to earlier generations that Godís salvation would reach beyond His people. But though they are not children through Abraham, they are adopted by Godís grace. Paulís message would be sent to all nations, to the kings and authorities who would be drawn to the light.

It is interesting to hear the conversion stories of kings. Not all understand it immediately. Publius and the people of Malta thought he was a god. But he taught them about Jesus and the people believed. St. Augustine took the Good News to Britain and King Ethelbert and his people were baptized on Christmas in 597. St. Patrick took the story of Jesus to the pagans in Ireland, converting the king and the priests of the people who had once enslaved him, despite defying their traditions. The light they had drew the people to them and they believed.

Often we talk about the Gospel as it relates to the poor and needy of our world. But in todayís lessons, we see that there is also a place for the rulers. The light draws all people, young and old, rich and poor, those who lead and those who follow. It is important to recognize that the rulers are also called to see the light, for it is in living faithfully in our vocation that God can do His work. The ruler who knows God does what is right. When the king rules with righteousness, the people prosper under his care. The psalmist prays that the king will be gifted by God, drawing the nations and shining Godís light.

The psalm for today is a prayer given at the coronation of a king. It was used first by or for Solomon the son of David, and then for the kings that followed. It is the ideal reign of a king Ė a nation of peace and righteousness. It calls the king to a right relationship with His people, taking care of their needs and leading them in the right path. It is a prayer for a long reign, for a kingdom that spreads far and showers blessings on the entire world.

It is difficult for a human king to fulfill such a great expectation. David and Solomon were great kings, but they were imperfect. Like all human kings, they did not remain entirely faithful. At Christmas, we pray the prayer again, for another King of Israel, a king that will fulfill those expectations. He will be the righteous king, worthy not only to be honored with gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense, but also to be worshipped. And at Epiphany we see that this King will not only reach out and draw Godís chosen nation. He will draw all people with His light.

We are called to live in that light, to share that light so that the world will see Godís glory. He came to be the light and sent light so that the Gentiles might see. They followed the light so that we might see that He came for us, too. Epiphany tells us that the Good News is for all people. Thanks be to God.

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