Day of Epiphany

Ascensioncast

Sermon by The Rev. Sara-Scott Wingo, January 6, 2019

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The Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Sermon

Day of Epiphany, 2019 Church of the Ascension The Rev. Sara-Scott Wingo “Arise shine for your light has come.”  These words from Isaiah are the first words of Scripture we hear on this Sunday of the Epiphany.  “Arise shine for your light has come.”  Get up, meet this new day, awaken to greet the dawn for its coming is reliable. We can trust this thing that we cannot control.  Each night we fall into sleep knowing a new day will come.  This truth is utterly reliable. No amount of questioning will change it.  The sun rises just as surely as the light of God shines on us and in us.  “Arise shine for your light has come.” In the very next sentence, Isaiah reminds us darkness covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples.  He says “darkness” and then he says “thick darkness.”  Does he mean something darker than the night? Years ago, at night, our family cheered on one of our soccer playing girls.  Brilliant field lights created something akin to the light of day. The little sisters were quite young at the time and were playing a bit of a distance away with other children.  They were climbing some rocks on a gentle slope.  We kept careful watch on them as much as we did the girls on the field.  Then suddenly darkness!  Nothing prepared us for it.  This had never happened before.  Why the lights failed was a mystery.  This abrupt snuffing meant our eyes had to take time to adjust; so for that moment, all of us could see absolutely nothing.  Nothing at all.  Complete blackness.  The girls out on the field were all old enough to understand that this was a power failure of some sort.  We called out to them, “It’s okay. Just stay still for a while, you will be able to see soon.”  They were a little disturbed but not distressed.  We knew they could take care of themselves.  But the little ones were shrieking.  “Momma, Daddy!”  They couldn’t understand where the light had gone.  They didn’t know if it would come back, and given the pitch dark we couldn’t make our way to them.  It is a terrible thing, if only for a moment, to be separated from your child when all they need is you.  We all had to just wait in the dark for a while, but the dark wasn’t darkness because soon our eyes adapted and we could see.  Then we rushed to embrace our babies. When Isaiah speaks of darkness and then thick darkness, he may be thinking of something darker than night, such as the inner tunnels of a cave.  If you have ever crawled into such a space, and you extinguish the light that guided you there, you will discover absolute darkness.  You eyes will never adjust because there is no light at all. Normally sighted animals living in these conditions have been known to go blind, so not only are we blind in the dark but living in the dark can create blindness.  Even so Isaiah makes this proclamation, “Arise, shine for your light has come.”  The light shines on us and the light shines in us. Let’s shift our attention to the wise men who also saw a light, the light of a star that lead them on a very long journey to find the baby Jesus.  Singer/songwriter James Taylor wrote a song about this:   The magic men the magi Some people call them wise. Or Oriental, even kings, Well anyway those guys. They visited with Jesus. They sure enjoyed their stay. Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme. They went home by another way.   Taylor is poetic, but some of his facts are a little off.  The Magi were from the orient, Persia, to be exact, the place where Iran is now. However, they were not kings, but rather Zoroastrian priests, representing one of the world’s oldest religion.  As such they interpreted dreams, read the stars, and foretold the miraculous birth of a divine son born of a virgin.  They were people who knew how to follow the light, and so they did follow it to find the one who would become known as the light of the world. But there was a darkness, a thick darkness that covered Jerusalem.   The name of this particular darkness was Herod.  We are told that when the Magi came to him asking where the divine child might be, Herod responded with fear.  The narrative reads, “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”  He found threat in a child who would grow to be fully authentic in his humanity and thoroughly infused with Divine light. Herod’s fear was contagious, a fear that infected all of Jerusalem.  While our lesson for today does not tell us about all of the destruction this fear let loose, a little later the story will reveal that Herod sent his people out to slaughter the innocents in the hopes of destroying his one threat.  It’s a tale almost too dark to tell, but we must hear it.  We must acknowledge the power of fear, the power of darkness.  We must ask what kind of fear anesthetizes a community so much that they stand by and allow such a thing to happen to their children?  Darkness did indeed cover the land, a thick darkness.  A darkness named fear.  A darkness named apathy and denial.  A darkness named death. However, before the story made this darkest turn, the Magi learned that Herod was after them.  “Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for  their own country by another road.” Being bathed in the light of the Christ Child, the Magi must have been forever changed. This light goes by the name of love. This light goes by the name of grace. This light goes by the name of life.  Basking in this light made the Magi truly wise, wise enough to change, wise enough to risk a new path, wise enough, as  Jame Taylor observes, “to go home by another way.”  Taylor goes on to suggest, “Maybe me and you can be wise guys too and go home by another way.” I know someone who always went home by another way.  She’d go to the grocery one way and go home another way.  She’d go to church one way and go home another way.  She’d drop the kids off at school and go home another.  She did this for the sake of interest and  perspective, for seeing her own circle in as large a way as possible. This was easy for her because she had lived in that town for her whole life and she knew every street. But for the wise me to go home by another way was an entirely different sort of thing.  They did not know the way.  It was all unfamiliar.  They had never been this way before.  They wanted to take the light of Jesus with them back to their foreign home, for his light now shone in them but they didn’t have a mp or a star to lead them anymore.  They were fumbling in the dark, flying blind. This all raises the question of how we find our way in the dark. We have a vision of the light of life.  We want to carry it with us and to shine in the various places of our lives.  We want to be a part of a local community and a world community that shines together.  And yet, there is darkness.sometimes we encounter darkness.  We might find that our old way of doing things no longer works – or at least that to move forward we are going to have to open our eyes a little more and walk with determined intention.  We have to make new maps and this is the hardest thing when no one can tell you how. When darkness covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples, when the fear around us is both palpable  and contagious, when this fear creates almost inconceivable suffering for the innocent, Wisdom speaks beckoning us to “go home by another way,” to find a new path.  So we remember again Isaiah’s proclamation.  “Arise shine for your light has come.”  The light shines on us. The light shines in us. No matter how thick or deep the darkness.  We can count on this just as we can count on the rising of the sun.  A new path for healing in our lives and in our world awaits, and light will always lead the way.