a sermon for the feast of the Epiphany
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.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
December 24th, in the year of our Lord, 2018, only two weeks ago, this past Christmas Eve in Incline Village, Nevada, was a night filled with darkness—literally. If you didn’t notice, a Sierra storm rolled in and after much undecided flickering in this sanctuary, the power finally went out. And the few of us left at St. Patrick’s post the hustle and bustle of an epic pageant performance, we were left in the dark. And I’m sure some of you were left in such a state as well. Perhaps chomping down a burger at Rookies (as the Thomsen brothers were), or preparing a Christmas feast for your loved ones. Perhaps you were singing along to Christmas carols, or sneakily (or not so sneakily) opening presents a bit prematurely. Perhaps you were getting yourself all dolled up to come on down to our canceled 10pm service. But if you were north of Highway 28 in our tiny town on Christmas Eve, well needless to say, we shared an experience of being in the dark.
As a child I must admit I was typically afraid of the dark. For everything seemed much more terrifying in the dark (the normal all of a sudden paranormal). Whenever night rolled around, I was afraid there was a monster in my closet that hid behind my clothes ready to devour me should I let it know I was sleeping. I was afraid that whenever I felt a chill in the air, a ghost was wandering on by (like that M. Night Shymalan film I watched too young—“The Sixth Sense”). I was afraid that a thief would break into my house and enter the bedroom I shared with my sister. That’s why I connivingly chose the bed furthest from the door, because in loving older sister fashion, I thought the thief would get to her first so I could sneak out the window next to my bed. I was afraid of the dark, because of the strange shadows cast in corners of the room; because of how loudly the old floorboards creaked in the house when all was silent; because of the inability to see clearly the familiar yet now foreign shapes surrounding me. The darkness was oppressive.
Yet so many of my most beautiful, my most mystical childhood memories, manifested themselves in the midst of the darkness. Like stargazing on a blanket in the backyard with my little sister, watching a meteor shower shine in dazzling array. Or taking in the moonlight hitting the snowy crest of a mountain peak as my beloved and I embraced each other around some slowly smoldering embers. Or my family making their way home after a Christmas Eve midnight mass, as the precipitation glanced against the car windshield, and I imagined that the streetlights looked like the multitude of heavenly hosts or the star of Bethlehem beckoning me of to sleep in the back of my mom’s Honda Odyssey.
And the reason we gather together today—to celebrate the feast of the three wise men visiting that baby Jesus—, it was also a night covered in darkness. We know the story well, do we not? A star shone in the midst of the night to guide these wise guys all the way to Bethlehem. And yet, as our story alludes, the darkness encroached upon them not just by night. The darkness of that day and age was oppressive: as the Roman empire controlled the region of Judea and the Israelite people. And as their local ruler, King Herod, was himself a terror to behold. A man who would later in Matthew’s Gospel, slaughter the Israelite boys under the age of two for fear that a King to oppose him had been born. Then Jesus, Mary, and Jesus were forced to seek refuge away from home and flee to the foreign country of Egypt.
Yet in the midst of the darkness something mystical, something magical, something wonderful happened. As the prophet Isaiah encourages: “Arise, shine; for your light has come!” And as he said on Christmas Eve: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Over two thousand years ago Light, the greatest light, that light that liberates us from the darkness, broke into the world in a seemingly tiny way: in the form of a small child, at the birth of a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And my friends what is more mystical and hopeful in the wee hours of the morn than the cry and coo of a this fresh new baby Jesus? Who is more than just a babe, but who is Emmanuel, God with us.
That is who we have celebrated for the past twelve days of Christmas: a God who is with us. A God who is with us whatever darkness befalls you. Whether your darkness is the loss of a loved one this holiday season—through death, or divorce, or a move across country. Whether your darkness is outrage at the state of our nation—trying as you might to reconcile how hatred underlies our political conversation. Whether your darkness is depression—hiding from your coworkers that you did not really laugh at the joke, that you did not have a relaxing vacation, and that you most certainly did not have a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. If you today are walking in the darkness, do not be afraid. I promise you: God is with us. And the light is near, like a star rising in the East and guiding our way. No! Actually my friends, the light is already here! God is, not will be with us. The light that was coming into the world, has already come! And it is does not just disappear now that all of our festivities have ended.
No matter how small it may seem at first—whether it is just the tiny flicker of a flame, or the warm hug of a friend, or the birth of a small child—, the light is already here: glowing and growing and liberating until it becomes all consuming! My friends, whether joy overwhelms you or darkness enfolds you, I pray you choose the light this day. I pray you experience the light this day. I pray you see the light this day. And may that light mold you, transform you, embolden you so that others who feel like they are covered in darkness, may see that same light through you.
For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never, ever, ever overcome it.
Artwork credit: “Star Of Bethlehem” by Artist Singh MrCaution