Benediction Online

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Arise, shine

Today will be longer than yesterday. Today we will have more daylight than we had yesterday – one minute more. Tomorrow we’ll gain another minute. The light is coming back. Slowly and almost imperceptibly the days are getting longer, the dark of winter is over.

And today we celebrate the Epiphany –of the Christ child, the light of the world. We get the word from the Greek epiphaneia which means “a manifestation or striking appearance.” In modern usage, an epiphany is a breakthrough which seems to come out of the blue, but only after a problem has been considered for some time. In other words, you have to do your homework before you get an epiphany.

The manifestation of God in the form of a human child, shown in today’s Gospel to the three wise men from the East, did not happen suddenly without any preparation. Six hundred years before Jesus, Isaiah had declared “Arise, shine for your light has come” -words which we now take to refer to Jesus the Christ. It seems that the writer of Matthew wanted us to make that association as he has the magi bringing gold and frankincense just as Isaiah says. The Jewish people had been preparing for the coming of the Messiah for centuries.

We don’t know how long the three men from Iraq or Iran had been preparing for their journey. But it was probably quite a while. Although our Christmas card and carols give the impression that the shepherds showed up the first night with the magi rapidly on their heels, it was probably a year or more before they arrived in Bethlehem. According to Matthew’s account, Joseph and Mary must have found a place to live and stayed in Bethlehem for long enough for the amazing star to appear at Christ’s birth and guide the star-gazing Easterners to his crib-side.

Their epiphany seemed to come out of the blue – an astonishing star, perhaps a comet, appears in the night sky and leads them to take a long journey to find the child it portends. Amazingly they interpret it as having to do with a child and specifically with one who has been born the King of the Jews. What did they do to get so wise? Probably they had been studying prophecies as well as astrology for many years before.

I suspect that we sometimes look for an epiphany in our own lives without having done the preparation. I know that that was what Advent was about and now we can move on to glorious light and revelation… but not so fast. The work of advent is never done – we long for the moments of epiphany when suddenly, apparently effortlessly we have a new revelation of the divine – but these rarely come unless we have been doing our own spiritual work.

Most of us don’t need to learn astronomy or prophecies in order to prepare for the possibility of epiphany. Most of us have much humbler paths, but they are not necessarily easier. Our paths are in the daily living of spiritual lives, the daily turning to Christ, daily finding things which block the Christ-light from shining in and through us, and the daily work to remove those blocks in cooperation with Spirit.

“Arise, shine,” says the prophet, “for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” This is in a whole different category from “this little light of mine”… “Your light has come does not mean” that we get to be shiny and get noticed by everyone around us. This light is God’s light which can shine in and through us. There is nothing that we can do to bring this light into our lives. It’s pure gift. The light of God came into the world in Jesus Christ – he is the human embodiment of divine light. Because of his gift, it is possible for us to shine with the light of God, and in fact it is our calling to shine with God’s light, because we are called to be the sons and daughters of God and to imitate Christ.

But the light itself – that is God. Our job is to do the work of preparation. Our job is to invite the Holy Spirit to work in our lives to remove all the blocks, the hindrances, the – dare I say it – sin, that prevents the Christ light from shining clearly.

And why should we do it? It’s not for the moments of ecstasy, it’s not for the times of joy when the light suddenly blazes in a new way, it’s not for the moments of epiphany, wonderful though they are. It is because the world needs us.

God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten son. That’s what it’s all about – and we have a role in the redemption of the world, in bringing all things into reconciliation with God. Amazingly, as the daughters and sons of God, we are part of God’s plan for salvation! It is through you and me that God has chosen to bring about the completion of her work.

On the face of it it doesn’t seem like a very smart move. But that’s our God for you! Despite their learning and wisdom, the three wise men didn’t think to look for the Light of the World in the tiny city of Bethlehem – they went to the court, where you would expect to find a king. But God didn’t choose to become human in the center of power, God chose to become human in the modest outskirts of Jewish society.

We don’t live in the centers of power. Few of us have influential friends. None of us have the money to change the cause of elections or influence politicians. But all of us have been given the power to become the children of God. All of us have been given the power to manifest the light of God. All of us are called to bring peace, healing and yes, even salvation to the world - always remembering that it is a gift given to us, a gift that we are given to share. A gift that grows in the sharing.

And the time is now.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.


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