“More Light” Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Epiphany Sunday, January 3, 2021 Rev. Dr. John Henson
Have you noticed a slight change? Outside that is. The days are getting longer. Now that the winter solstice has happened, earth is tilting toward the sun and we will gradually get more of its light. Isn’t that what we need right now, more light breaking into our dark world?
It’s what the world needed when Isaiah spoke to Israel as the nation regathered in Jerusalem. After decades in exile in Babylon, what they found of their homes, city, and Temple must have been heart-breaking. Like people returning to Lake Charles and Cameron after the hurricanes this season, the sight of so much in shambles would be devastating. Seeing past the destruction and imagining a way to rebuild would require an inspiring vision. God knew they needed that and sent another Isaiah to cast just such a vision. As we place ourselves in the shoes of the returning exiles and as we hear Isaiah’s words, we can experience the power of what God had to say to them. They have been in darkness, so Isaiah says, “. . .for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” They have been oppressed financially, and so Isaiah says, “the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” As Walter Brueggeman states, Israel will now benefit from the “inversion of geopolitics” as it will now be on the receiving end of wealth rather than giving it over to other nations. All of this is good news and Isaiah was to lift its eyes to see it.
More light is also what the world needed when the Magi detected something different in the skies and as they made their way to Bethlehem. They were familiar with darkness but also aware of light that was on its way. Their study of astrology and religion informed them to follow a star that was appearing in the eastern sky, to a king who would be born in Bethlehem at the time of its appearing. They acted on what they knew, going to Bethlehem, even after encountering more darkness with King Herod, to put their eyes on where the light was shining, on Jesus. Like with the nations that would bring gifts to the oppressed Israel, these magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the impoverished Jesus and his family. Their eyes had guided them to what God had revealed and their joy was made full.
That joyful light is surely what we need right now. As we hear those words from Isaiah, “Lift up your eyes and look around,” what do we see? What will we see as we peer into a brand new year? First, we can see what God will bring about in our world. It’s tempting and quite easy to just doom scroll ourselves into this new year, not taking our eyes off of the shambles in our lives and world. We might well reason that this is the new normal and conclude that God isn’t going to save us from it. But what if we look ahead, at the destruction but then beyond it, to see what God will bring about? Can we see what God will do as there are now vaccines we can take, as new drugs are being developed to heal our bodies, as people are working on plans to rebuild what has been lost? Will we look out ahead and see what God can do to regather us safely? It’s been a while since we’ve been able to congregate normally, but imagine when we will be able to regather fully and sing loudly, gather in the altar for communion, embrace one another in love, and do what’s most missed—have a potluck meal. May we lift our eyes to see better days ahead as our community and world rebuild together. Yes, Epiphany is about seeing what God will do.
But we also can see what God is doing now. Like the Magi who were able to follow in the dark to the light and see what God had revealed in their time, we are able to experience what God is doing right now in our time. Yes, it is still dark, but aren’t there some things we can see even now? If you’ve been able to help with the Highland Blessing Dinner since March, you’ve seen the impact we’ve been able to make with Highland Center Ministries to address local hunger needs with our neighbors here in Highland. It’s easy to see the power of love by something as simple as bagging up hot meals and handing them out to people who have nothing to eat. And we can also see God working now in how we have learned to check on one another more often, to pay more attention to our neighbors, to learn what’s truly essential for life in this world, to deepen our reliance on God, and to cherish each day more seriously. These are a few that come to mind. I’m sure you can make a list of where you’ve seen God during this time. We can also see God at work beyond us. As we look at our nation, we can see God’s work of justice at work as problems in our nation like systemic racism and white supremacy have received attention and as some efforts are underway to bend the arc of justice and bring much needed change.
And, last but not least, we can see how time in God’s light results in a radiant effect as a reflection of God’s glory. This is the effect Isaiah spoke of Israel getting from God, as they would radiate God’s glory and presence to the nations around them. They would shine brightly as people took note of what God had done for them and as they shared it with others. Their blessing and joy would be contagious. The same is true for the Christ child, his parents, the shepherds, and the Magi. They would be radiant with their epiphany from God. We too will radiate with light as we reflect God’s glory in our world. This happens when we catch a vision of what God can do, when we follow the signs and light God shines for us, and when we encounter the Christ child who has come to change the world for good. This happens when we see that the light we’ve been given isn’t just for us but for our neighbors who are also in darkness.
When we see what God is doing now and will do in days ahead, we can’t help but rejoice and shine brightly as we tilt toward the light, even in thick of darkness.