Third Sunday after Epiphany – Year A
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Let us pray: Turn our hearts to you, O God, and open us to the gradual unfolding of your call in our lives. May these words be ones which at least in part, help us to be open to the ways in which you call us to be faithful messengers of your presence in the world and in our lives. Amen.
Not just because of the scripture readings set out for this day in the Christian year, but certainly aided by the words we just heard, I've been thinking about light a lot lately. For Christians it is natural that we should be thinking this way in this the season of light which we also know as Epiphany. For me it is most often imagined as the light bulb going on in the brain season, the season of revelation, insight and new perspective. It is also a contextual thing for us dwellers in the land north of sixty. Who hasn't noticed the light this week? It was my turn this week to lead worship for the people who live in Aven Manor and at the Cottages. As I usually do, I began our time together with a little update on the weather. Perhaps it is just because it is a quintessentially Canadian thing to do, to talk about the weather, but I prefer to use the reasoning that people who are required to spend most of their days inside and especially it seems that as people get older they need their living space to be warmer and warmer, would like to know what it is like outside. They can sit in their rooms or in their common areas and look out, but I think they also like to know what it feels like as well. On Thursday it was a particularly interesting situation. As you know, it was quite cold during this week, and as you also know the cold combined with some humidity in the air – not only created a Youtube sensation, but it left a feathery coat of frost on all the trees. The place where we gather for worship in the Cottages is a lovely place with large windows that face out on the other residences in that complex, with lots of trees to be seen. I sat there on a cold, but bright day. It was after 11:00 am, so the sun was up but not very high, thus creating a horizontal beam of light on the frosty trees. The theme I had chosen for worship that day was Glory. It was pretty easy to form a visual image of glory as the light glistened brightly among the frosty branches of the trees.
Last night at a dinner party we found ourselves once again talking about the return of the light. I say once again because it seems to me that more often than we might expect, even for long time dwellers in the north, our attention and conversation seems turned to the issue if light in this northern land. We seem to often talk about the shortness of the days, the length of the days or the speed with which those two situations switch around. It is a bit of a surprise to me that people who you think would be used to the ways in which light comes and goes can still talk about it and register surprise and delight in how quickly the length of days change at this latitude.
Of course the season of Epiphany is not just about the physical aspects of light, it is also, and perhaps more appropriately figuratively about light. This is, as I mentioned earlier, the season of revelation or “light going on in our brains”.
Something else happened for me this week, and it too led me to do some reflection (no pun intended) on the subject of light. I've been invited by CBC Radio to participate in a project they have which involves conversations about inspirational music. I met with a producer on Friday to talk about this and in a somewhat meandering conversation with her, we too found ourselves talking about the aforementioned northern theme – namely the darkness and the light as it pertains to length of days. As you may know, one of the epiphanies I have had since moving north over five years ago, has been an expansion of something that I had previously only briefly considered. This epiphany is ironically about the dark. The dark is metaphorically cast as a time when God's absence is noticed. I'm sure you've heard the terms – dark days, or dark night of the soul, or descriptions of loneliness, depression or sadness described as being dark. These are not to be dismissed, but as in all things when it comes to discerning the presence of God, I've discovered it is too simple just to let things be. In what I consider is a growing theological awareness for me at this point in my life, the dissonance between expectation and realization is a sure and solid sign of God's presence. Old assumptions must not be completely trusted, old ways of being and doing cannot be counted on, and old thinking must be reconsidered. That's what I've been led to do on the subject of darkness and light. In the days leading up to Christmas I had the honour to be invited to commemorate a sad story in the annals of the Mounted Police in our country when one hundred years ago a Mountie patrol of four men, lost their lives when they were lost on what had become a yearly patrol between Dawson City and Fort McPherson. I wrote about it in my blog, as part of my Christmas message to people in our conference, and as part of that writing I offered these words: We talk of light – and light is wonderful, and revelatory, and for people who live north of the Arctic Circle – like the people of Fort McPherson and other communities, there is a big celebration when the sun returns on or about January 6 (how wonderful is that little connection between Epiphany and the return of the sun!), but I invite you to think of how many good ideas, how many inventions, how many lives were transformed in the dark of night – in dreams that became fulfilled, in bedtime meditations, in the ideas that popped into active minds, and in that birth which we celebrate at Christmas – in the darkness of a Bethlehem night.
In other words, darkness is not just about sadness, loneliness, and searching. Darkness cannot only be thought of as a time when we experience what feels like the absence of God. It is important for us to be aware of these connections, but our understanding of God says that God is always present, and therefore I have been led to make an association with darkness as a time of insight and revelation as well. Even so, light is still a part of the equation. It occurs to me that light is even more visible or noticeable when it shines in the darkness. Sometimes it takes the shadow of dark around us to see the light. The planets – after the moon and the sun, are observed as the brightest objects in the sky, but they usually cannot be seen until the sun goes down.
It doesn't stop there, however. This for me is but an example of the way in which we are called by God to change our perspective on all manner of things. This became apparent for me in the preparation of the worship resources for this morning. There seems to be a kind of unstated but compelling notion that true discipleship involves giving up whatever we are doing to become like Peter and Andrew, James and John – people who gave up a vocation to become disciples. Do you feel like me, a certain sense of judgement that anything else is second best, that if we are unable to just drop everything and become a follower of Jesus, then we don't quite measure up. But when I looked at some of the resources for worship, they offered something else, a raising up of different ways of answering the call, and for me that was a helpful revelation – not one I haven't heard or thought about before, but one that I perhaps needed to hear again this week.
There are different ways of answering the call, just as we are different ourselves, and each of us with our own personalities and characteristics can have our own way of being followers of Jesus and God's way. This does not mean that we can't or should not challenge ourselves outside of our comfort zone. There is a place for us to be called to do better, to push the limits of who we are, to be better, but I firmly believe that we are made by God to be who we are, that our diversity is a reflection of the wideness of God's creativity.
One of the resources I used this week told this story, A parent enters the gymnasium during a school carnival with her two children on either side. Immediately a clown carrying a handful of uninflated balloons passes by. One child takes the parent’s hand and leans in close, a little unsure of this colourful creature with the big nose. The other child runs to greet this new friend and follows him to a crowd of children where he will blow up and shape the balloons into animals.
I've met kids in my life who fit these two descriptions quite closely. Is one better than the other? Certainly not! In fact one of the kids I know who was very scared by clowns when she was young, was also from the very same age a girl who was very deep, very thoughtful. From a very young age she was a person who would engage in very considered contemplation of a particular subject or topic before responding to it. Some descriptions of her might even describe her as demonstrating a certain darkness. But she was simply a child who seemed destined to be wise beyond her years, and someone who made very thoughtful, caring and meaningful choices in her life. I haven't seen her for a number of years. She is now an adult , but I know that when she was a teenager she was very much a disciple in her own way.
And of course I've met other kids who would totally embrace the fun that a clown offered. And of course they too were a reflection of God's presence in the world. Jesus had it right when he said that we must become like children to get a really good insight into what it means to be a part of God's community. There are all kinds of kids, and each in their own way, just as we are as adults, are and can be a reflection of God.
Darkness and light – each in their own way offer a path towards the revelation of the presence of God. This week I had more light shone on the idea of light and found in this consideration an invitation to find insight into the wisdom that can be discerned in darkness. And in this, I was led to continue to be open to the surprise and unexpectedness which are so often a sign of and an invitation to grasp the newness which God is calling us to behold. Amen.