Matthew 2: 1-12
It happened, of course, not in a good and happy time, but in Herod’s time, a time of great injustice, and great suffering. Brutal King Herod, after all, was that most dangerous kind of powerful person: an insecure and fearful one, eaten up with worry about maintaining his power and his place and his comfort, and his advantage was his privilege. Protecting his privilege can demand a lot of energy, especially since Herod wasn’t a real king; he was just a puppet of the Empire, the hated and oppressive Roman Empire.
Just imagine, then, how thrilled this pretend king must have been on that day when a little band of “wise men from the East” showed up at his palace, with their camels parked out front, loaded down with treasure…and they asked him – asked him, the king! – for directions to the “real” King of the Jews! That comment would have upset his imaginary power.
It’s a good thing that, along with nature and common sense, the Magi also have Scripture; the Isaiah reading, and just like us, they need all of these (nature, common sense, scripture) in their search for God. And, like us, they need a community in which to interpret these things. God would also provide direction through a dream (just as Joseph was guided by a dream), but it’s no accident and not insignificant that they’re helped by Scripture, when they ask for directions from Herod and hear from the religious authorities who know just the right place to look for the answer.
There are many ways that we “find our way” to God, to the little baby born King of Kings: nature does indeed point to the glory of God, the care of God, the presence of God, but we need the Bible, too, and personal experience, and our community that helps us understand all those gifts. Then, like the Magi, we’re drawn to worship the One we seek.
So, what do we hear in this nativity story? We hear that God has sent a gentle shepherd who will nevertheless upset the powers-that-have-been. We hear that the smallest things, like a newborn baby, can terrify the arrogant, and bring them down in the end. We learn that God’s reach of grace goes far beyond every obstacle within or without, and pushes us beyond them, too. We learn that a great light has dawned, a light that draws all people and calls us to live our lives illuminated by its truth. That’s what the Epiphany season, the season of light, is about: we hear the beautiful words, the promises in the text from Isaiah, about a light breaking forth for all of us who know what it feels like to “sit in darkness.” To sit in darkness could be a time of grief or a child’s illness, employment lost or health impaired and we hear the call to arise and become radiant with the light of God. To sit in the darkness could be a time of grief, or a child’s illness, or employment lost, or health impaired.
The Isaiah 60 reading speaks of light and glory and rising-up from wherever we have been pressed or pushed down, rising up to behold the glory that comes to us. It is the light of God that breaks through the thick darkness, and it will appear over us. Whether Isaiah speaks of rising from darkness to the light or Matthew speaks of the wise men bringing gifts, we see and hear the great invitation that would go out, in the end, to everyone, making them (and us) disciples, too.
How do we observe these seasons (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany) every year, year after year, and still find that place within us that is capable of being overwhelmed by joy? How is God still speaking to us, year after year, in every season, calling us to this joy, this remembering, this new vision? We each one of us has our own journey and all journeys tell a story of faith.
But not every journey toward the Christ starts like the magi’s in darkness, but there might come a time when, in the empty hours of an otherwise unremarkable night,
you have happened to look up at the usual sky, and noticed, almost by accident, between passages of gray beasts of slow-moving cloud the bright bloom of a strange star flowering, and something begins to open a little somewhere beneath your skin,
as if that new wedge of light in the sky had inserted itself into your soul, not enough to cause you any hurt, but just enough that you feel a pang, the twinge of something like longing, as if your eyes in the silence have become ears in the darkness, and you are hearing a holy summons, distant but ringing like a silver trumpet in the chambers of your listening heart, and you gaze at that star where it stands in the sky dropping dust on the night horizon, and you think it might be signalling a holy Presence in the world
and a road you can take to meet it, and that such a road, lit with such promise, might lead to a great adventure, where life becomes challenged and changed and as new as the sky above a better world. And so, you pack, and you leave on this journey, this journey where Christ is not only waiting but walking your road at your side, and you follow that light as it closes the distance, as it reaches deep within you, touching gifts
you carry in your hand.
The divine light that shines in the Child is not a foreign light to the earth. It is the Light at the heart of all life. It is the Light from which all things come. If somehow this Light were extracted from the universe, everything would cease to exist. So, this is a story about the Light at the heart of everything, the Light at the heart of you, the Light at the heart of me. Look around you now at the people next to you, at the life forms growing from the earth, at the radiance of the sun or the whiteness of the moon. And look also into your own heart. There in all things is the Light. Maybe it is deeply hidden. But it is there, waiting to come forth anew. In the Christ Child this Light shines. He is our epiphany, our showing. In him we see the Light of life; in him we have shimmering hope. Amen.