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Friday, January 04, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

We’ve entered a new year in the calendar of this world and moved into a new season in the church.  Not only have we come to the Epiphany Season, this Sunday falls on the actual Day of Epiphany.  Many churches at one time celebrated this day as Christmas, hence the 12 Days of Christmas---the days between Dec. 25 and Jan. 6.  The word “epiphany” literally means “manifestation” referring here to the revelation or manifestation of God in human form in Jesus. Today it focusses more upon the visit of the Magi (Wise Men) or Jesus’ baptism than upon the birth itself.  Mostly we think of it as a season of light, when all of human life becomes bathed in light.

Epiphany is, in a sense, a season of “Enlightenment.”  In everyday usage (although who uses “epiphany” everyday?), “epiphany” means a realization, an awakening, becoming aware of something previously unseen.  We might say, “It came to me in an epiphany.”  Suddenly something makes sense that didn’t make sense before or one gains a new perspective on the meaning of one’s life or of life in general.  The period of history we call “The Enlightenment” was a time which particularly emphasized the search for knowledge and understanding.

The lectionary readings for this Sunday, taken in their natural order, begin with a call to “enlightenment,” an ecstatic celebration of the power of light to overcome darkness.  It moved me and set me to wondering how I could invite you into that experience.

Light is so powerful.  The days have started getting longer. There is less darkness in each 24 hour period.  When I awaken in the early morning hours, I don’t look first at the clock.  I turn in my bed and look toward the sky, judging what time it is by how far along it is in the process of “enlightenment.”  As the seasons change, I have to adjust, knowing that morning light this week is earlier than it was last week.  Some years ago we were in Alaska for two weeks in early September when the change is quite dramatic.  The length of a day changed more than an hour during our short stay.

Whatever the hour, what a wonder it is to walk into our east-facing full-windowed living room and find it bursting with light.  Some mornings as I walk down the hall in that direction, I first think, “Oh, I must have left the light on last night.”  Then I realize that it is so much brighter and full of color.

The prophet is overcome, speaking not just of physical darkness but of spiritual darkness.  “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2) He talks about kings coming to “the brightness of your dawn.” (vs. 3)  It is not just light that illumines the exterior.  It penetrates and becomes part of us so that we too are “radiant.”  (vs. 5)  Do you get it?  Light is all around us, even within us if we but take notice.  “Lift up your eyes and look around . . . (Y)our heart shall thrill and rejoice.”  (vss. 4-5)  I stopped and read Isaiah’s words again.  By the time I was done I was almost glowing.  Epiphany is a season to remember that we have all been filled with a divine light that enables us to glow if we are but “enlightened,”

After all that ecstasy, we notice that the last verse speaks of “a multitude of camels” and people who “bring gold and frankincense.”  (vs. 6)  That’s probably why the reading is included.  The Gospel lesson from Matthew, the story of the coming of “wise men from the East” (Matthew 2:1), concludes with them “opening their treasure chests” and offering the child (Jesus) “gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  (vs. 11)

There as many directions to go with this story as there are readers.  It is full of political intrigue and significance, a wrenching story that leads to the slaughter of innocents by a “frightened” king.  Powerful and wise men bow down in wonder experiencing an “epiphany.”  Today I want to note that there is light in this story as well.  It begins with a star.  (vs. 2)  The star (the light) leads them.  “. . . there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising . . .” (vs. 9)  When the star stops, they are “overwhelmed with joy.” (vs. 10)

We could search for a scientific explanation of this astronomical occurrence, which many have done to their (and my) satisfaction, but such explanations may miss the wonder of the story.  Even in the midst of all the darkness of human politics, there are still stars shining in the sky.  Light is still there with the power to overcome darkness and cause us to leap with joy.  When we follow the light it may take us to unimaginable places filled with wonder and possibility.  May Epiphany be a season where that happens!

The epistle reading from Ephesians does not specifically mention light but it speaks of mysteries revealed and hidden things coming into plain sight. (Ephesians 3:3-5, 9)  I’m not going to offer much interpretation of the mystery, or this reading, other than to say that Christ is seen as both mystery and revelation.  In this Ephesians passage we read of “the mystery of Christ” being “now revealed.”  (vss. 4-5)  The revelation is that we are all in this together, recipients of grace beyond measure.  (vss. 5-7)  When are we going to become enlightened enough to start acting on that truth?

Finally, the reading from Psalm 72, another flight of the poetic imagination, can be seen as describing the “enlightened” society.  One definition of The Age of Enlightenment speaks of adherence to "democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press.”  The Psalm, in a prayer for a king, asks that “he may judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice . . . May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor . . . May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.  In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound.”  (Psalm 72:2, 4, 6-7)  This king is one who “delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.  From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.”  (vss. 12-14)  The Psalm expresses a dream of “enlightenment.”  Can we see it as providing guidance for presidents and nations, an entire world?  The season of Epiphany holds out such hope, because our light has come.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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