Where is the Light for You?
Epiphany - January 6, 2008
Epiphany - January 6, 2008
Let us pray: We thank you, O God, for revealing your love in the gift of a child. Stir our hopes. Prepare us for mysteries that can change us. Ready us for dreams that may set us on a new direction. Ground us in your wisdom, and help us follow your call. Amen.
††† Despite the fact that I wished everyone a happy new year more than a month ago, it is unavoidable - especially given the number of calendars that I received for Christmas - that we should be more influenced by the calendars that have the turning of the year on January 1 instead of the first Sunday of Advent.
††† I showed the children my Christian Calendar at the end of November - just when it was running out, and I have a new one for my wall - here it is right here - with the year beginning on December 2 just past - the first Sunday of Advent.
††† Given that the Christian year begins with a period of waiting and preparation in the season of advent, it perhaps makes more sense that we should take the opportunity of the turning of the year as it occurs on most calendars as a time for looking backwards and forwards - just as many of the news media outlets do at this time of year. However, now that we are almost a week into the year - it is likely that the looking back is almost over. Therefore, instead we have a whole twelve months laid before us - a time of opportunity, a time of recommitment.
††† Thatís one observation I take from the juxtaposition of two calendars - the Christian one, and the one that we use in the rest of our lives - in our appointment books, on our walls and desks. Another observation is that this is the day of Epiphany - and we donít often get the chance to celebrate Epiphany as a gathered community of faith. Unlike Christmas, when there is usually some question about whether there will be a worship service on Christmas Day - I donít think Iíve ever been asked if we are having an Epiphany service in the most often occurring situation when it happens on a day other than Sunday. I looked back and Epiphany has only occurred on a Sunday two other times since I began pastoral ministry in 1990 and when such perhaps obscure things started to become important to me. The main thing to note from this situation is that we have the opportunity to use different scripture passages, because Epiphany gets its own set of readings - which of course are missed when Epiphany occurs on a day other than Sunday.
††† We heard those passages a few moments ago - a passage from Isaiah in which the people are encouraged with words that Godís glory and light will come to brighten the darkness that surrounds them, and the passage from Matthew where we learn about the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus - I say child, because there is nothing to connect Lukeís story of the birth of Jesus in a manger to the visit of the wise ones, guided by a star to that same manger. In fact, it is quite likely that the journey of the magi took a long time - and Jesus might have been at least a couple of years old by the time they arrived to find him. This would explain Herodís instruction to have every male child age two and under put to death.
††† The turning of the year is a perfectly understandable occasion to look ahead and look back. Itís not that we canít do the same thing at other times of the year - perhaps birthdays would be another appropriate occasion, but there is something about the new year which makes us want to think about coming days as understood by the things we learned from days past. Itís what prompts us to make new yearís resolutions - although given the way that they are treated in popular culture - new yearís resolutions are an almost laughable remnant of New Yearís past. From all Iíve heard - people either donít make them anymore, or they expect to break them before the shine has worn off the new year.
††† Just before I make a case for New Yearís resolutions, I want to make one final observation which connects northern life with epiphany in a way that is much more palpable than when I was a southern dweller. Itís very easy to think about light and dark when there is such a pronounced distinction between the dark days and the bright nights that we experience here north of the 60th parallel. I came back this week from our Christmas break in Alberta and among the most frequent questions we received from people we havenít seen for a year or two was the question about dealing with the darkness in winter and the brightness in the summer. As Iím sure you know there is a real curiosity among southern folks about the darkness and the light. The learning here for me is that context is extremely important, but itís not the only thing to be considered. We, as northern people, have some insight to add, but we also need to be open for the insights of others.
††† That, in a way is the message of the epiphany readings we heard a few moments ago. Isaiahís words are meant to remind the Hebrew people that insight can come from unexpected people and startling locations. Arise, shine, for your light has come, says Isaiah - and it may come from a place where you least expect it. Similarily, the story of the magi, as Matthew tells it, is a reminder to Matthewís community - a community of Jewish followers of Jesus - that others outside the community are also to be part of the circle. It took wise travellers from a far-off country to shed light on the meaning and purpose of Jesus for people who understood themselves to be part of his close community.
††† As people of that wider community - for Matthewís message did take hold - we are also to be ready to make the circle wider - to be more inclusive in our understanding of who belongs. We are Christian - followers of Jesus, people who believe that transformation is possible. Itís part of our particular faith story - the belief that lives can change, that light will shine on new paths for us to follow, the belief that we are called by God to make changes in our lives so that they follow more closely the path that God would have us take, and the belief that God calls us to offer transformation for others so that lives can be more faithful and fulfilling.
††† Iím sorry if that sounds like a New Yearís resolution - but not that sorry - because it is part of who we are - turning of the year or not - to resolve to be faithful and responsive to the call of God and the example of Jesus.
††† And it doesnít really matter whether it happens now in 2008, whether it began to happen sometime during advent just past, or whether it was a resolution you made some time ago, or a resolution that will lead to transformation sometime in the days to come, for we also know that there is a difference between chronos - the time we mark with watches and calendars and kairos - the time that is Godís time - the time when light shines for us with insight, new awareness and new resolve to be Godís faithful people.† Amen.