Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We have a friend whose daughter is an EMT. She decided to chase the buck a bit as a young person and so she took a job up at Arviat, Nunavut in a clinic there providing first response care. Now Arviat is in the balmy south of Nunavut but despite this southern exposure, they get a winter of absolute darkness! And while this may seem terrible, it’s nowhere near as bad as Barrow, Alaska.
It’s in the high north, way up above the Arctic Circle. If you can picture it, the sun sets there on November 18 and doesn’t rise again until January 24. That’s like 65 days of darkness! I can’t picture this. I don’t want to picture this! I think that living in perpetual darkness for that long would drive you bonkers! But on the other hand, I’m sure that there is one heck of a party when the sunshine finally returns to that frozen wasteland! And, just think of all the money you save on sunscreen!
Fortunately for us, we begin the “season of light” today. Epiphany is always celebrated on January 6 so we are a couple days late to the party. It’s also the day after the 12th day of Christmas. The lords have quit leaping, the pipers are piped out and the drummers are done drumming! Epiphany is here again for another year. It literally means “to reveal” - kind of like how the sun would finally reveal itself in Barrow, AK or Arviat, Nunavut. Epiphany was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah when he wrote “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (60:1-3).
Epiphany, the season of light. Christ our Lord continues to come to us blessing us with His presence in our dark world, making Himself known to the world that did not receive Him. As Lutherans, with our Roman Catholic roots, Epiphany begins with the Wise Men, the Magi who visited Jesus. And it is an important note that it really was quite sometime before the Magi actually arrived where baby Jesus was. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the “10 minutes after the shepherds” got there in every nativity play we’ve ever seen.
See if you can spot the detail that gives it away: “9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (MT 2:9-11). Did you catch it? St. Matthew tells us that they went ‘into the house.’ Not the stable. Not the cave. The house. So this tells us that it was probably even a couple of years after Jesus was born that the wise guys showed up. But even though they may have been late to the nativity party, they are an integral part of our Lord’s incarnation.
And here is why. The wise men, besides bringing some sweet swag to Baby Jesus, reveal that the Jewish Messiah isn’t only here for the Jews. Even though “salvation is from the Jews” (JN 4:22), that salvation will be for all people. And so it’s no coincidence that the Wise Men were outsiders, people far from the Jewish nation, yet they came to worship the King of the Jews. And this is key for Epiphany.
A major emphasis on Evangelism accompanies this time of the church year. In us, God’s Baptized people, Jesus continues to reveal Himself. His Heavenly light shines into our hearts and minds in order that we can continue to shine it forth to others. Our Isaiah reading summarizes this for us “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” We are reminded that the world we live in is dark. Darkness is symbolic throughout the Scriptures for sin and death and pain and suffering. It’s like little kids going to sleep. All is usually well if the nightlight is shining brightly. Or in the movies, darkness is usually the time when the bad guys do their worst. If wild animals are encircling the camp, the hero’s light fires to scare them away. This is ingrained into us from a young age. The darkness is scary and we desperately need light to make us feel safe and secure.
The Bible tells us that “God is light” (1JN 1:5). And not only that but the Light has come to you. God’s glory has shone and risen upon you. We tend to forget that we have been made children of the light in our Baptism. 1 Thessalonians tells us “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (5:5). St. Paul reminds us of this calling in his letter to the Ephesian Christians. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (5:8-11).
Now most zealous people upon hearing these passages think their job is to run around with a flashlight and shine it into other peoples’ lives exposing their sin and wickedness. But we need to think again. It’s not other people’s darkness we need to concern ourselves with. Rather we ought to concern ourselves with our own darkness. We need to come out of the shadows ourselves that the heavenly light may shine upon us. And we do this by confessing our sins and repenting of them. As Lutherans we have this built right into our Divine Service. The first thing we do when we gather as God’s people is have a general confession of our sins.
But there is one little hang up. How many general sins do we commit? Well the answer is none! We commit very specific sins in thought, word and deed. Naming them can be very helpful for us, especially if our consciences are troubled by something we’ve done or said or even thought. Unfortunately, we as Lutherans have quit confessing our specific sins and hearing forgiveness for them. It’s like those old boxes of Christmas decorations we don’t want to see anymore so we put them way at the back of the crawl space. They’re still there alright but we never see them or use them! It’s for our spiritual benefit to actually confess our specific sins. For in so doing we route out the darkness of sin from our lives. As St. Paul writes, “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:13-14).
Through confession we are truly inviting our Lord to shine His heavenly light of forgiveness, life and salvation upon us. And as such, we want to make every attempt to ensure that our thoughts, words and deeds are of the light. This is the chief struggle of the Christian life. We still have a bit of darkness and sin lurking within us, ever trying to draw us back to the dark side of Satan. But in our Baptism, the Holy Spirit activates and comes to dwell within us. He makes His home within us and helps us to fight against evil, exposing it. And when darkness is exposed, it disappears. For there are no shadows when you are surrounded by light.
A Philosophy professor was teaching a course. At the end of the class each day he would ask the class if there were any questions. A little timid looking student in the back put up his hand and asked “Professor, what is the meaning of life?” The professor thought for a moment and took his wallet out of his pocket. He took a little mirror out of his wallet, about the size of a loonie. “When I was a child, I began to realize that I could have so much fun with that mirror. I would simply catch the glint of the sun and shine the beam into an otherwise dark place. As I grew I realized that this was no child’s toy but rather a metaphor for all of life. I am not the source of the light, I am but a tiny piece of a mirror. If I allow the sun to shine on it, it is amazing what light I can bring into the darkness. This my friends is the meaning of life.”
It is in this theme of Epiphany light that we all try to shine as much of Christ’s light and life into the world as we can. It starts with the incarnation of Christ our Lord and proceeds to the Cross that illuminates the whole world. It comes to us in faith and our Baptism and then flows into the rest of the world. This becomes our goal and quest as God’s people. How can we shine the light and love of God’s Kingdom into a world of darkness and despair? I think our Christmas focus of “Tim’s for Kim’s” street ministry was an excellent example. But what other opportunities is God placing before us? Look for those opportunities to reflect the light of God’s grace in Christ into this dark world.
Thanks be to God for His life, light and love forever more. Amen!