On this Epiphany Sunday, let us pause for a moment and create a space in our hearts and minds to give thanks for the blessing of God’s presence…
And so we pray…
O Shining Light, we give thanks for the light of this day,
for the light of eternal love, for the light of the journey
to justice and peace, and for the light of your grace in our lives.
Shine through us, we pray, that the light of your love and peace
may spread throughout the world. Amen
On the first Sunday of the Advent season we heard words of encouragement and invitation from the prophet Isaiah who says, “Come let us walk in the light of God!”. (Isaiah 2:5)
Throughout Advent and Christmas the theme of light was prevalent and was a reassurance to us of God’s presence and guidance.
Today, from Matthew’s Gospel, we hear again the story of the Magi who travelled by the light of a star and discovered the Christ-Child in humble circumstances and who were forever changed by this experience.
Matthew tells us these wise ones were “overwhelmed with joy” and “knelt down and paid [the Christ-Child] homage”. (Matthew 2:10,11) They offered precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – gifts suitable for a king. This king – the prince of peace that Isaiah foretold – would change many lives and give life and hope to all people.
The significance of the Magi can easily escape us. Their’s is a wonderful story of adventure, discovery and celebration. Their’s is also a story of new found loyalty to a humble person who has no earthly wealth or status and a commitment to share the experience of the radiance of God’s loving presence with others. Scholars have often noted the importance of this story because Matthew recorded his gospel account with his Jewish contemporaries in mind. It is significant that it was non-Jewish wisdom seekers that discovered and honoured the Christ-Child. Matthew recognized that God’s light is revealed in the life and ministry of the one who was called Christ and that the illumination from this light is for all people everywhere.
While reflecting on this I couldn’t help think about the cantata that Terry Macham composed, entitled “Looking for the Light”. This cantata dramatically highlights scripture stories and addresses the human yearning for assurance of God’s presence and guidance. Toward the end of the cantata – in the reprise of Looking for the Light – there is an important shift in focus from “looking for the light of God” to “living in the light of God”. For me, this is what Epiphany Sunday is all about – a reminder of the presence and revelation of the light of God’s love and also an imperative to go and live in the light of God – sharing God’s love with others.
When I was reflecting on this a couple of stories came to mind. The first was the experience of sharing the cantata with the folks at Grasmere in their community hall on the afternoon of the 3rd Sunday of Advent. The cantata choir and narrators arrived in plenty of time to get organized and were prepared to begin the cantata immediately following a brief Advent candlelighting liturgy prepared by Grasmere United Church members. Everything was going as planned. Jim Andrews began the cantata with a reading from the Gospel of John – the one that says, “What has come into being in God was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) Jim had barely finished the reading and the choir was primed and ready to sing “Looking for the Light” when all the lights in the Hall went out. This unexpected occurrence caused some commotion as we were at the end of the Hall with no windows and nobody could see their music (including Terry). It was soon discovered that the power was out in the whole area and wasn’t likely to be restored for several hours. We quickly moved ourselves and the piano to the other end of the Hall where some daylight was shining through the few windows that were there. The congregation turned their chairs around and as soon as the piano was repositioned, to take advantage of as much light as possible, Jim read the passage from John’s Gospel again and we began to sing, “They were looking for the light, looking for the light, for the light of God…”. We continued as best we could with the additional help of a flashlight to aid the singers in the back row who were in a dark corner. When we were nearly finished the cantata and we were singing the reprise of “Looking for the Light” I felt sure that the lights would miraculously come back on right on cue which would have made for a very good story. However, the lights didn’t come on but what happened after we finished singing was an even better end to the story. By candlelight we gathered around tables and shared food, stories and laughter. This engendered in me a keen sense of thankfulness for the gift of community. Along with the generous sharing of music and hospitality there were also the gracious gifts of gratitude, humour and the radiant light of goodwill that shone within each person in attendance. The details of that experience may fade in my memory with time but the profound feelings of awe and wonder will stay with me always.
The second story that came to mind is a brief wisdom story that reminds me of one of the things that is essential to “living in the light of God.”
It is said that, a teacher of wisdom once asked his students how they could tell when the darkness of night had ended and the light of day was on its way back. “Is it when you can see an animal in the distance, and can tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?” “No,” answered the teacher. “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig or a peach tree?” “No.” “Well then,” the students demanded, “when is it?” “It is when you can look on the face of another human being and see that he or she is your brother or sister. If you cannot do that, then no matter what time it is, the light has not yet arrived.”
In a moment or two, we’ll sing together a song written by Jim Strathdee that reminds us on this Epiphany Sunday that:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and the shepherds have found their way home,
the work of Christmas is begun.”
The work that Strathdee is referring to is the mandate to live in the
light of Christ by emulating his teachings.Jim Strathdee says this work is:
“To find the lost and lonely one,
to heal the broken soul with love
to feed the hungry children with warmth and good food…
to make the powerful care…
to rebuild the nations with strength of good will,
to see God’s children everywhere!” (Voices United 87)
Remembering Isaiah’s invitation to “walk in the light of God” and the Magi’s heartfelt and faithful response to divine inspiration, I’ll close with a poem entitled, Light to Your People by John Harvey of the Iona Community:
Christ Jesus, we thank you
that when the world was very dark
you came to bring light into our darkness.
You came in the night
to bring light into the lives of Mary and Joseph.
You came to Bethlehem – then, as now, a very troubled town –
bringing light to all who came to trust you.
You come to us now, into our lives
and into our world, bringing light to your people.
…Help us see the light that will shine for us,
not just in the Christmas season but every day of the year.
(Hay and Stardust, pgs. 68-69, adapted, Wild Goose Publications, 2005)
May Christ be our light, our hope and our way,
this day and always. Amen