Epiphany – Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
I speak to you in the name of the Living God – Holy Trinity, ever One. Amen.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
As you sit here today, in the midst of the state of affairs in our country, our world, perhaps even on the struggles in your own life, do you feel ready to answer the prophet’s call to “arise” and “shine?”
When I was a kid, 6 years old, 10 years old, 14 years old, my father would rumble down the hallway in our house at around 5:45 in the morning – 6:15, if he was being merciful – shouting “rise and shine!” (I grew up on a farm and we had chores to do.) Stirring from the thick darkness of sleep, I often thought, you’ve GOT to be kidding.
I started preparing this sermon after breakfast one morning this week. And what do I usually do at breakfast? Read the newspaper. So when I went from the pages and pages of news about the government shut-down and Brexit and tensions around immigration and armed conflicts to the prophet’s call to “rise and shine,” I thought, “Is he kidding? Does he know what we’re going through here?”
Actually, the prophet has no idea what we’re going through here. He wasn’t speaking to us. He was speaking to people in his own day. People who weren’t feeling much like “rising and shining” then, either. Isaiah issues this call to Israelites who have just been delivered from decades of exile and slavery in Babylon, only to find themselves exhausted from trying to rebuild their lives in their homeland and now oppressed at every turn by neighboring Persians. To make matters worse, in the midst of this exhaustion and oppression, and their fear of scarcity, now they’re fighting amongst themselves. Sound familiar?
Isaiah issues this call to people without regard to their circumstance. Here’s what I mean by that: the children of God are ALWAYS called to ARISE, to SHINE, in good times and in bad, when we have a president with whom we agree or a president with whom we do not agree!
Isaiah boldly issues this call to people who are struggling because it is NOT a call they are to fulfill on their own strength. It is a call that the children of God are called to fulfill and CAN fulfill because God’s glory is happening to them all the time. In good times and in bad. When they are wealthy and when they are enslaved. When they are joyful and when they are grieving.
God’s glory is NOT dependent on us. God’s glory is not DEPENDENT on us.
Did any of you happen to see the op ed article by David Brooks in the New York Times this week? It’s entitled The Morality of Selfism: the Gospel of Saint You. Brooks basically calls our culture – and all of us – on the carpet for believing and acting like we – you and me – are the center of the universe, the most important thing, the arbiters of how things should be. Brooks calls us on the carpet for giving up on “old fashioned” moral standards in favor of doing what “feels right” to us in the moment.
As children of God, we are not commissioned to go it alone, to make it up as we go along according to our own compass. We are called to live in relationship with a loving, liberating, life-giving God who guides our steps and guards us along the way.
Every year over Christmas break in the Waggoner household, we have a movie marathon. In the odd-numbered years, we see all of the Harry Potter movies. In the even-numbered years, we see all of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies. So we just watched all of the Lord of the Rings movies.
Over and over in those movies, two things happen. The first is that people commit themselves and recommit themselves – even in the worst of times – to something larger than themselves. And the call, the LIGHT, of that larger something draws them on even when they are totally convinced that this is not in their best interest.
In the final Lord of the Rings movie, Sam-wise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins are taking the one ring, the ring of power through Mordor and up the mountain, to destroy it in the fires of Mt. Doom. But as they struggle up the craggy mountainside, they realize that they don’t have enough food, enough strength to get home. They realize that if they continue up the mountain, this is certain to be a one-way journey. And yet, they carry on. Why? Why do they continue on when it’s not in their own best interest? Because of love. Sam and Frodo don’t care to be heroes. Only a handful of people know what they’re doing. Sam and Frodo carry on because of their love for their friends, because of their love for their home in the Shire, because of their love of the world. Love draws them on beyond consideration of “what’s good for me.”
The second thing that happens is that people hang together. They don’t go it alone. If they have an “it’s my way or the highway” moment, they either get called back to the group or people come with them. At one point, Aragorn, leader of the humans, has a perilous journey to make to find more soldiers to help defeat the powers of darkness. He tries to sneak away, not wanting to endanger the lives of any of his friends. His friend, Legolas, won’t let him go alone. And they succeed in their task – together, a task that Aragorn could not have completed alone.
Today, you and I are called to ARISE, to SHINE, but not on our own agenda and not in our own strength.
We are called to remember how the glory of the Lord has risen upon us . . . and then to SHINE the radiance of that light.
How has the glory of the Lord shown on us in our time? The incarnation of Jesus Christ. The incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Now, you may think – that happened 2,000 years ago. But the incarnation isn’t just history. It empowers us to “Arise, shine” now!
We have the privilege – in our time – to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who saves us by the power of his birth and life and death and resurrection – over and over again – into NEW LIFE.
The glory of the Lord, the revelation of our time, is that Jesus is our loving, liberating, life-giving Lord. It is by the power of his LOVE that we answer the call to “Arise, shine!”
Oh, one other thing . . . I think that it’s important mention another theme in the readings for today. We are called to “Arise, shine” in loving relationship with EVERYONE – especially those who are different from ourselves.
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee would never have made it to Mordor to destroy the ring of power and help bring peace to the world without the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring – which included, in addition to themselves, Gandalf and Merry and Pippin, and Gimli and Legolas and Aragorn. These folks were a wizard, two hobbits, a dwarf, an elf and a human – a group that – at the beginning of their journey – didn’t much like or trust each other. But by the end of their journey they had learned to respect, appreciate and even treasure each other in the midst of their differences.
In this season of Epiphany, let us ARISE, SHINE! Let us risk moving out of our comfort zones for something larger than ourselves with fellow travelers who press us to check our assumptions and challenge our biases.
May it be so!