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Sermon for Epiphany 2019

    Jan 06, 2019

    Passage: Matthew 2:1-12

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Series: Major Feast Days

    Category: Epiphany


    Sermon for Epiphany (2019)
    January 6th, 2019
    St. Anne’s Episcopal Church (Lackey Chapel at CCU) 

    Isaiah 60:1-6 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12

    When light shines, it’s hard to ignore it. 

    Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, or as some call it, the Festival of Light, and it’s one of the most important feasts in the Christian year. It’s the day when we celebrate the arrival of the sages from the east - the “Three Wise Men,” if you go with the popular version of the tradition. But the story of the wise men - however many there were - is not there to give us a quaint picture of kings dressed in multicolored silk robes carrying gifts to the newborn baby Jesus. The story of the wise men has a much deeper significance within the Christian tradition. And it’s part of the reason why we celebrate today as one of the major feasts of the Church year. 

    If we go back to the Christmas story, the basic message of Christmas is that God has become incarnate and that the savior of the world was born in Bethlehem. But if you take the Christmas story that we get from Luke’s Gospel just at face value, it is a fairly private event. Yes, Mary and Joseph were there, and yes, some shepherds were told about it, but it’s still kind of a quiet affair that doesn’t grab the attention of anyone outside of Bethlehem. If the story of Christmas is about light shining in darkness, it starts out as a very small light.  

    But then we get the story of the wise men found in Matthew’s Gospel, and we’re very clearly led to understand that the birth of this child is not as private as we might think. Rather we’re meant to understand that the birth of Jesus was made known to others from far away and that it very quickly garnered the attention of those outside of Bethlehem. Matthew’s Gospel is telling us that the intention of God is that the birth of Jesus is NOT a private matter that will go unnoticed. The intention of God is that birth of Jesus is something that the whole world should see and is being made to see. When light shines, it’s hard to ignore it.   

    Now, if you’re in any doubt about the importance of light, then I’d invite you to think about how much it has been raining over the past couple of weeks here in Conway and how glorious yesterday seemed. I know that I spent a long time outside yesterday just soaking up the sunshine and being thankful that it wasn’t another dreary day. And if you had something of the same reaction to seeing the sun after several gray days, then you know how important sunlight can be. You probably also know that after a space of several days without sunlight, when there finally is a clear day, lots of people go outside to bask in the sun. It’s almost like the sunlight beckons us or acts as a prod to get us to go outside and do things that will shake us loose from the funk we’ve been in. There’s something almost healing and restorative about seeing the sun shine, especially in a season when the days are short. It’s kind of fitting, then, that we’re celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany - the Feast of Light - on a bright day that has followed on the heels of some pretty dreary days. Because it reminds us that with the Incarnation, God is calling us out of darkness into light. And when light shines, it’s hard to ignore it.

    With that said, I want to share with you a story that a friend of mine, the Rev. Amy Duggins,  told me just a few days ago and that I think speaks volumes to what today is all about. She writes so beautifully that I’m just going to share her words in full:      

    “I just witnessed the most incredible thing. I was in the upstairs bedroom and was startled by a colossal *THUMP* behind me. A yellow shafted northern flicker had hit the window full force and fallen to the roof ledge just below, where it rolled several times and landed feet up, dead to all appearances. It was so beautiful and I was heartbroken for it. I was standing there looking at it, sending it what blessings I could, when another flicker flew up and landed beside it. This flicker began to walk all around its dead companion, doing some sort of curious dance. I thought it must be some sort of mourning ritual and I watched, full of sadness for them. It continued this way for several minutes. Finally, mid-dance, the attending flicker darted forward and poked its companion with its beak... and the "dead" bird fluttered to its feet!! The dancing bird continued to poke and nudge the first bird until it pushed it off the roof ledge, where it fell out of sight. I rushed downstairs and found it standing on the deck below, alive but still dazed. I stood several yards away to give it space and thought every encouraging thought at it that I could think of. Finally I approached again to check on it, and as i got close it took wing and it flew! High off into a tree. A moment later its companion - the one who had danced around it - flew over to meet it. Not a mourning dance. A healing dance… What a gift to see on this first day of the new year.” 

    Sometimes we hit walls. Sometimes the sadness and disappointments of life can leave us feeling almost paralyzed. And we can get to feeling like there’s so much darkness all around us that it’s pointless to keep trying. But the message of Epiphany is that God’s light has come into the world and is dancing all around us, poking and prodding us and beckoning us not to lose hope. And I’m not talking here as if the message of the gospel can be boiled down to mere optimism or wishful thinking in the face of suffering. What I mean is that with the birth of Jesus, God touches the very heart of the human condition, embraces it in all of its weakness and frailty, and boldly demonstrates that there is a light that shines even through the pains and failures of being human. And we are meant to see this light; to be healed by this light; to be filled with this light; to rejoice in this light.  

    What’s more is that the light we are celebrating at Epiphany is not a private light just for us but a light that is meant to be shared with the whole world. That means our job is to share that light with everyone, no matter where they’re from or how different from us they might seem to be. Our job is to be so filled with God’s light that others will see that light and know that something of the truth of the Incarnation has taken root in us. It doesn’t mean we should be pushy or impatient with others - or, even worse, sanctimonious about who we are as followers of Jesus. But I do think that if we are true to our calling as people of the light, others will see the truth of what we’re about.  

    Because…When light shines, it’s hard to ignore it.