Enlightenment is seeing God’s light of hope in the baby, at the cross, not in spite of them, and then radiating that light into the world yourself.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Epiphany of Our Lord
Texts: Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6 (with reference to John 1)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Are you here seeking enlightenment tonight?
Light is a powerful image for humanity. Every part of this globe every day is partially covered in darkness. Even those on the equator have half their days in darkness, and even though those near the poles have times when the sun barely sets, they still have moments where there isn’t enough light to see by.
So we have learned to use light to help us see. To overcome our fear of the darkness, where things invisibly threaten us. We learned to burn wood, we learned to put a piece of string in the wax bees make and light it, we eventually harnessed God’s electricity for light whenever and wherever we needed it. So we don’t stumble in the dark, bruise our shins, break our legs. So we aren’t afraid.
But we also learned this about light: it’s a helpful way to describe understanding. When we are confused, lost, afraid, and come to understand hope, or direction, or clarity, we say we are enlightened. Our minds now have light in them, we say, shining so we can see – not with our eyes but with our hearts and our minds and our spirits.
So I ask you again, are you hoping for enlightenment tonight? Is that why you came?
Maybe the Magi were seeking enlightenment, too.
They famously read the skies and interpreted the movement of planets and suns millions of miles away as indicating truth of something on earth. We’ve long since abandoned that idea. How can the rotation of our solar system, let alone distant galaxies, say anything about who we are, what God is doing?
But even in the Magi’s day, astrology was pretty subjective. Different cultures believed different things about what they saw in the skies, and it wasn’t like the star they followed came with an instruction guide. Somehow, they came to believe it was important that they go in a certain direction and see what they believed this heavenly body was indicating. But even as they arrived in Jerusalem, they didn’t know where to go.
Maybe they were looking to be enlightened as much as we are. So, they showed up at a house and saw a baby in the night, just as we’ve showed up in this house and heard about a baby in the night.
And Matthew says they were enlightened. They were overwhelmed with joy. What they saw opened their eyes, their hearts, their minds, to God’s grace coming into a dark and frightening world.
That’s an enlightenment we’d love to have.
Where is God in a world where children are killed by wicked rulers who feel their power threatened, 2,000 years ago and today? Where people are permitted to destroy the climate and wreak havoc on innocent humans, animals, landscapes? Where so many of God’s children are homeless and starving? Where powers that work evil and suffering seem nearly invincible?
We truly are here once again, as we always are, to ask of God: where is the beauty of your light in the darkness of the world? Where is the One whom we seek to be found, we ask like the Magi, and how will that One bring light?
And here is the light that John tells us shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome: God comes in a human child.
But anyone who saw the baby Jesus might not find it obvious that God was in this child for the healing of the world. Our Christmas movies always have a glowing light surrounding the Holy Family, presumably so the shepherds knew where to look, and the Magi knew where to kneel and set their presents.
But God’s truth is hard to grasp in this baby. If Matthew said a great warrior hero was God-with-us, maybe that’d be easier. Where is John’s promised light in this poor little family, this poor little baby?
But Matthew and John know the truth. The light of God, the heart of God the Son came to reveal, God-with-us, is only seen in this humility, this vulnerability.
That’s the enlightenment you need: not believing God is with us in spite of looking like a baby, but believing God-with-us can only be known in this little baby. You can’t understand God-with-us if you don’t understand this baby.
You see, God’s light is the humility, the vulnerability. God’s light is the suffering and death on the cross. Whatever the Magi saw, whatever the centurion on Golgotha saw, look for that: God isn’t known in spite of vulnerability and humility, but because of it.
See this and be radiant, Isaiah says, and then your heart shall thrill and rejoice.
You can be overwhelmed with joy at God’s coming this way, like the Magi, when you see this is the only light that makes sense in the world’s darkness. That this vulnerable baby and this dying Jesus on a cross is the true light that actually can conquer evil. God’s plan of healing starts with vulnerability and always remains vulnerable, to reveal how evil can be dismantled forever. Not with power and might, our human approach. But with radical, self-giving love, modeled by the Creator of the universe.
You see that when you see this vulnerable child. When you look at the cross, and then at the empty tomb. That’s where you find enlightenment, when you finally understand the power of power-releasing love, the light of self-giving that cannot be extinguished by the worst evil.
And then, Isaiah says, you will also become light for the world.
See and be radiant, Isaiah says. Go be light.
You might not get the attention of whole nations and kings, as Isaiah promises, but what if you imagined that God meant that promise for you? What if you trusted that the light of Christ shining in you, the enlightenment you have received in God’s epiphany that this path of vulnerable love is the only light that can pierce all darkness and end it, what if you trusted that God would make that light shine from you? From your eyes, your face, your words, your actions?
This is the enlightenment to pray for: that God helps you see not only God’s light in this baby, in all that Jesus is and does, but also God’s light in you until you, too, are burning brightly as a candle in the night. Showing God’s hope, God’s love. And lighting others. Until eventually the promised dawn of God’s healing and life brightens for all the creation.
In the name of Jesus. Amen