Arise, shine – look up from your fear and see God’s light shining in the world and in your life, and then shine that light so others might find hope and joy.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Epiphany of Our Lord
Texts: Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
They knew all they needed to know. But they didn’t do anything.
When Magi from the East came to Jerusalem looking for a newborn Jewish king whose birth notice they saw in the stars, the chief priests and scribes knew where to look. In answer to the Magi’s search parameters – child, Jewish king, important enough for astrological announcement – they knew chapter and verse, Micah 5:2, and quoted it to Herod: “From Bethlehem, one of the least of Judah, will come a ruler to shepherd God’s people.”
Maybe they had to do some research first, Matthew doesn’t say. But they had the right answer. They believed Scripture spoke of this birth, and they knew where it would be. They just didn’t know when. But now they knew that, too: these foreign astrologers arrived saying it had happened.
So why didn’t the scribes and chief priests join the Magi and head to Bethlehem? All the puzzle pieces were in place. Why didn’t the scholars of the nation Jesus was born into, the teachers of God’s chosen people, join these non-Jewish stargazers to see what God was doing?
Isaiah speaks of this coming as light shining in darkness. Like the star the Magi followed.
The Jerusalem scribes knew these verses we heard today, too. Isaiah says this coming of God will attract nations and kings, who would bring gifts of gold and frankincense. So foreigners arriving with these gifts to worship this child was itself a sign that this light of God, this child, had arrived.
And surely the scribes would’ve believed there was a need for light, would’ve understood the world to still be in some darkness. Under Rome’s thumb, the Jewish people weren’t free, weren’t thriving. The promise of hope to God’s exiled people that Isaiah 60 declares would have been deeply needed at this time, too.
They would have known this. And still, they did nothing.
Maybe the darkness of life, the darkness of the world, made it hard for them to want to look for God’s light.
Why get your hopes up? We can understand that.
We talk often these days about the state of the world, the chaos, the wickedness, the oppression of huge numbers of God’s children, the destruction of our climate. Even though most generations have also seen such things, that doesn’t mean that words of hope and light don’t resonate with us, too, or that we don’t long for such grace from God. But maybe we also don’t think it will come in any significant way.
And it’s not just the darkness of the world or the society. Each of us faces challenges, struggles, where we feel we’re walking in the dark. Diseases, job problems, broken relationships, setbacks we face, all can overwhelm. We wonder about our purpose, whether there’s a point to all this. We fear death, ours or others’. Knowing God has light to shine into our darkness would be wonderful. If we’d let ourselves hope.
Well, today Isaiah says you can hope. “Arise,” he calls out to a people in fear and pain.
Darkness covers the earth, he says, covers the peoples. But God is rising up, and God’s light is shining on you.
At the heart of our Christmas celebration is this hope: God has joined us in our darkness, in our fear, in our exile, and is bringing light in Jesus. The light of hope that we are in God’s love always and cannot be removed. The light of promise that all we’ve done to contribute to the darkness of our lives and the darkness of the world is forgiven. The light of wisdom that there is a path of light to walk in the darkness that will be abundant and full for us and the creation.
Now, as we know, this is a long dawning. The light spreads one person to another, and it can seem like the sun will never rise. We need the Spirit’s gift of patience.
But today more than that we need Isaiah’s trumpet call: Get up and go look! Join others who are looking, and find the light together. You don’t have to sit in Jerusalem, knowing God’s light has come, and shut your doors and pull down your shades. You don’t have to be so tied up in your guilt, your fear, your anxiety, that you don’t even look for where there is light from God. You don’t have to be so overwhelmed by the complexity of the problems of the world that you don’t even expect any enlightenment from God. Arise! See what God is doing.
And Isaiah also calls out: “Shine.”
You are now part of the light you’ve arisen to find. Once you go see where God is shining, you become a reflector of God’s light, shining on others.
This was one of God’s greatest hopes for Israel, that they would take their chosenness, the love of the one, true God they knew, and invite all nations into it.
The Magi shone. They arose – they got up and followed – and they shone. They witnessed that God had raised up a new ruler who will be faithful to God. They shone their hope and faith to all in Jerusalem as they followed the light.
So shine, too, as you look for the light, as you band together with these others who’ve been looking. Let your light so shine before others, Jesus said, so that they may see the good you do and glorify God for it. You become the star.
Today Paul tells the Ephesians that’s his main calling.
It’s why he’s in jail, why he goes out and preaches when he’s not in jail. He has seen God’s light in Christ Jesus and has to shine that light for others.
“I have become a minister of this Good News,” he says, through God’s grace that works in me, “to make everyone see what is in the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”
What if you saw this as your calling? That as someone who’s seen the light of God’s Good News in this place – in the grace you’ve eaten and drunk at Christ’s table, in the forgiveness and love you’ve met and believed here, in the hope of God’s healing of all things that you’ve seen here – and as someone who’s seen the same light of God’s Good News in the world – in the eyes and love and compassion of countless people shining in the world’s darkness, and in the embrace and touch of countless others who have been with you in your dark places – what if you, having arisen and seen such things, also heard your call to shine, to let others see this plan that has been hidden in God’s mystery but now is revealed to the world?
I like to think that a couple scribes snuck out the side door of Herod’s palace and caught up with the Magi, wanting to see God’s light for themselves.
I hope some did.
But you needn’t sneak or hide. You’ve seen God’s light shining – even if it’s still deep mystery how it will shine on all, how all things will be healed in God’s coming – you have seen God’s light because you have come here, you have arisen to join with others following the star, seeking the light.
Now, as Paul promises, God’s gift of grace will give you the ability to shine in this world, in your life, amongst others. To be a star for others to follow, a light to give hope.
To be a minister of this Good News, until everyone comes to Bethlehem to see and to be filled with joy in God’s healing light.
In the name of Jesus. Amen