Walking in the Light, January 8, 2017

Epiphany Sunday 2017

Walking in the Light           Click here for audio



Matthew 2:1-12
Pastor Donna Buell

This past Friday was January 6th – the twelfth day of Christmas – the day of Epiphany.  Epiphany means manifestation or showing forth, and during the season that begins with Epiphany we celebrate all the ways in which God is made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  The story of the coming of the wise magi is a way of acknowledging that the light God’s love revealed in Christ was not just for the descendants of Abraham; it was for the world.

Throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons we have been responding to the invitation of the prophet Isaiah: “Come, Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord.” And as we move through these weeks that follow Epiphany, we will continue to explore this invitation offered to us in the stories of Jesus’ baptism, his calling of the disciples, his ministry and teaching. This morning I want to lift up several ways in which the wise magi walked in the light of the Lord. And in so doing, I hope to shine a little light on ways that each of us may do the same.

The first way I see the wise magi walking in the light of the Lord is in their wonder and curiosity.  Matthew tells us “they saw a star in the East.” It’s a simple statement, but there is obviously more to the story. All kinds of people may have seen the star, but these wise men didn’t simply look up and say “Oh hey, look at that cool star up there,” and then go on with their lives as usual. These wise men saw not only the star itself but also the message of hope and promise to which it pointed. They looked upon that star with vision rather than with mere eyesight. Without wonder and curiosity, they would likely have stayed right where they were and gone about their lives as if nothing had happened.  And they would have missed Jesus altogether.

How often do we do that? How often do we fail to notice the signs and wonders that are all around us? Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush aflame with fire. And only those who see take off their shoes, the rest sit round it a pluck blackberries.” There is so much more to life than what meets the eye. How much better it is for us to approach life with an attitude of wonder and curiosity; with a willingness to stop and take a look when something catches our attention, for we never know where God may be revealed: a burning bush, a star, a vulnerable child, a stranger in need, a timely word…

There is a Snoopy cartoon in which Charlie Brown is sitting on a hillside, looking up at the night sky. Lucy comes along and looks up with him. Charlie Brown says to her “You know what I think? I think that there must be a tiny star out there that is my star. And, as I am alone here on earth among millions of people that tiny star is out there alone among millions and millions of stars.” Lucy looks down at Charlie Brown and then back up at the sky and Charlie Brown turns to her saying “Does that make any sense, Lucy? Do you think it means anything?” “Certainly,” Lucy replies as she turns and begins to walk away, “It means you’re cracking up Charlie Brown!”

This year, as we seek to walk in the light of the Lord, may our lives be characterized more by the openhearted wonder of Charlie Brown than by the cynicism of Lucy. Like the wise magi, may we come to Christ with a willingness to see beyond the practical realities of life to the possibilities surrounding us. Rather than approaching life with a “been there, done that, wasn’t impressed” mentality, let us approach life with wonder and curiosity that we might be open to experience the holy in our midst.

The second way I see the wise magi walking in the light of the Lord is in their willingness to engage with what was happening. When they saw the star shining in the night sky, they didn’t just notice it and say, “Someone really ought to find out what that’s all about.” No, these men observed the star, they studied it, and they determined that it meant something.  But they didn’t stop there; they saw in the star a call to go on a journey, a call to go deeper, a call to go forth into the world.  So they laid aside their books, and their telescopes, and their maps of the heavenly bodies, they moved beyond their theoretical speculations, and they headed out on a journey. These wise men were wise enough to recognize that there was something more out there to experience, something more out there to discover, something more out there to learn.

This year as we reflect upon what it means to walk in the light of the Lord, may our lives be characterized by a willingness to become personally engaged in what God is doing. Let us not be mere observers of the star, but followers of the star. Let us not just be spectators to life and ministry, but full participants in it. Let us not simply sit on the sidelines allowing someone else to carry out the work of God’s love in this world, rather let us engage in that work as we make our journey of faith.  And when we wonder what it is God would have us do, let us remember that those wise men had only a star, but that we have far more.  We have the scriptures and a two thousand year tradition.  We have the stories of the advent and birth, the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the witness of all who have walked in the light of the Lord before us. All these can give direction to our journey as we seek to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

A third way I see the magi walking in the light of the Lord is in their adoration and worship, which includes the offering of gifts.  The scriptures say that when they came into the house and saw the child and his mother they knelt down and worshiped him, offering him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Worship and adoration are indeed the appropriate response to an encounter with Christ. But worship of God is about more than kneeling down and honoring God with our words.  It is about more than slapping on a Christian label.  It is about more than coming to church on Sunday morning.  This story shows us that the giving of our gifts in response to God is an integral part of authentic worship.

Much has been made of the particular gifts the wise men brought.  It has been suggested that the wise men gave the most precious things they had to give: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and we are often invited to consider what precious gifts we might have to offer. On a more humorous note, an anonymous writer has speculated about what would have happened if the three wise men had actually been wise women. You’ve maybe heard this before:  This author says that wise women “would have asked for directions sooner, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a hot dish, and brought practical gifts.”

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh may seem impractical gifts for a small child. But these gifts are symbolic of who this child would grow to become, the king of kings, the messiah, who came and lived and died and rose again that we might have life abundant and life eternal. I have often wondered if those impractical gifts provided the family with the very resources they needed to escape Herod’s wrath and survive their time as refugees in Egypt. What the story does tell us is that seeing Jesus called forth from these men an attitude of adoration and worship, and they felt compelled to offer something of themselves – something of value – in return.

Sir Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” This year as we reflect upon what it means to walk in the light of the Lord, may our lives be characterized by an attitude of adoration and worship made visible in the giving of our gifts. Let us not give them out of guilt but out of love. Let us not give them because we should, but because we can do nothing less. Let us not be content to merely worship the baby in the manger, but to worship and adore the one he grew to become, and to offer our gifts to further the sacred work he began in this world.

Finally, I see the magi walking in the light of the Lord in their discernment and responsiveness to the Spirit. When they encountered Christ these wise magi were able to discern the trickery of Herod, they were able to sense the goodness and the vulnerability of Jesus and his family, and they were willing to heed the warning they received in their dreams. And because of this they chose not to return to Herod and be drawn into his schemes. They found another way home. And as a result, Jesus and his family had time to escape before Herod issued his murderous orders.

How often do we hang on to our attitudes and opinions and perspectives and plans no matter what? How often do we pay more attention to the powerful and mighty than to the most vulnerable in our midst?  How often do we allow ourselves to get caught up in the agenda and the plans of others without taking time to discern what God would have us do? How often do we ignore the instincts that tell us we ought to find another way?

At the beginning of our service this morning we sang Shine, Jesus, Shine. This song of praise is appropriate for Epiphany Sunday, for it is a celebration of the light of God’s love that shines in the midst of the darkness of our lives and our world. Jesus is that light of the world. He reveals the light of God’s love. He shines the light of love in the midst of the darkness, and sets us free to love and serve God and neighbor. In this song we also pray that as the light of God’s love shines upon us, it will also be reflected in the way we live our lives, so that “mirrored here, our lives may tell the story.”

This year as we reflect upon what it means to walk in the light of the Lord, may our lives be characterized by openness and responsiveness to the nudging of the Spirit, so that we may be discerning of who God would have us be and of what God would have us do at this time, in this world, and so that we, too, can play our part in God’s kingdom work of light and life.  Perhaps the star word you received earlier in the service will provide you with an opportunity to experience and reflect the light of God in a new way this year.

May the light of Christ shine upon us and shine forth from us that we may walk in the light of the Lord.

Let us pray:

Gracious and loving God, you have given to us the greatest gift, your word made flesh, your love incarnate, your son, our savior Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the true light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Your light brings healing and wholeness to a broken and hurting world, it brings peace and reconciliation among the nations, it brings aid and comfort to those who are most vulnerable, it brings freedom and release to all who are held captive. It brings light and life to your people on earth.

Let the light of your love shine in the midst of the darkness, helping us to see the way you would have us go. By your light guide our steps that we may have courage to follow where you lead us. And may the lives we live, the choices we make, and the gifts we offer be a reflection of your light so that others may see in us signs of your amazing love.

Gracious God, in this year ahead, help us to discern your will for our lives, and to discern the gifts you would have us bring, that with open hearts and transparent lives, we give you all glory, honor and praise.  All this we pray in the name of Jesus whom we worship and adore. Amen.

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