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Your Light Has Come!

January 3, 2012

“Your Light Has Come!” Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12 © 1/1/12 (Epiphany celebrated) by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

An old “Garfield” cartoon has the famous fat cat lying in his bed and saying to himself: “Well, it’s time to take stock of the year. Let’s see…I ate and slept and accomplished not one single thing of socially redeeming value.” His final assessment? “I’m so proud of me!”

The new year may find us doing some self-inventory as well. Like Garfield, we may be rather satisfied with what we have done and become in the year gone by. We find a great deal that brings a smile to our lips and hearts and that moves us to give thanks to God.

Yet there may also be pain as we look back on 2011: the love unexpressed, the tasks left undone, the failures of nerve, the kind word left unspoken, the storms both literal and figurative, the loss of someone dear. Some memories are vague and do not disturb us except in our most self-critical moments. Others are “vivid as eyesight,” to use William Kennedy’s phrase. They haunt us, accuse us, lay on us a burden of guilt that refuses to be lifted, cast a pall of sorrow that shadows all we do. We remember, too, the need of the past year—the desperate prayers, the love we yearned to receive, the feelings of powerlessness we experienced, the frustration of huge problems left unsolved.

Memory is both a blessing and a curse. There is a Greek myth about a woman who came down to the River Styx to be ferried across to Hades. The kindly boatman reminded her that she could drink the waters of forgetfulness and leave behind her past life. As first she was eager to partake, knowing that she would be freed of remembrance of suffering, failure, and hatred. But the boatman observed that in forgetting her suffering, she would also forget her joy; in putting aside her failures, she would also forfeit the victories; and in the purging of the memory of how she had been hated, she would also forget how she had been loved. In the end, she chose not to forget.

Offered a potion to empty our memories, I wonder what you or I would do? Perhaps our pain is so great that we would gladly sacrifice the joys and successes to be rid of it. Or we may follow the woman’s example, and keep the bad in order to preserve the good.

The question is really a moot one, for no such potion exists. Rather, we depend on our faith in God made known in Christ. We trust that in all our life, God is at work to mold us into the persons he longs for us to be. That is not to lessen or discount the pain and hurt we feel. And it most certainly is not to say that God sends pain for some higher purpose unknown to us. Rather, it is to claim that God’s will for us is and always will be life and good, and that even the most difficult of situations is not devoid of his presence or sheltered from his grace.

We have not come to this place today, however, with thoughts and feelings focused only on the past. Janus-like, we look into the future as well—this afternoon, next week, months, years from now. The traditional symbols for the new and the old year—a baby and an old man—remind us that we may have come to a beginning as well as an end. A boundary, like a page on a calendar, is also an entrance into a new and unknown land, the undiscovered country. As we look ahead, we wonder what the coming year will hold. Probably most of it will be routine, much like last year and the year before that. There will be twelve months. The sun will rise and the sun will set. There will be winter, spring, summer, and fall. Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas will come around again. Yet we dare to hope that the routine will be punctuated with the extraordinary and will perhaps even yield up some meaning of its own.

And there are questions that arise from our faith. What is our Lord calling us to do, to be, to become? How can we know what he wants of us?

The text offers a clue. The eastern sages we drawn by a star to seek what new and surprising event might shape their future. They decided that a king had been born. But portents in the sky did not tell them exactly where to find the child sovereign. For that they needed the scriptures.

And that is Matthew’s point then and now. Revelation in nature for the magi or in experience for us is not quite enough to get the whole story. It can suggest, point, intrigue, start a process of wondering and watching and journeying, but it’s not enough. We must go to the scriptures if we are to see our lives fully and well interpreted. There we find the story of God with humanity that becomes our own story. There we discover the rich and truthful witness to Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. We do not worship the Bible nor do we claim for it authority apart from the work of the Spirit in our hearts and lives. Yet we do take it seriously. We dare not forsake its study nor fail to learn what is there for us if we want to be God’s faithful people. In its pages, we find God’s interpreting and inviting word to us so we can make sense of our lives and find meaning in and through what we experience.

Our hope for some word from God is thus not empty dreaming. We are not left in the dark about our lives. God has appeared; our light has come; the glory of the Lord has risen on us. God has made himself known in time and space—our time and space. He enters into your story and mine, speaking his helpful, hopeful word.

The end of this matter is worship—falling down before the King, presenting our gifts, opening our treasures for his delight. The epiphany of God in Christ transforms all of life for us, wherever and however it is that we live and move and have our being. The praise of God, the sense of his holy presence, the assurance of his care become the encompassing, enfolding realities of our days. And thus there comes true the saying: “…you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall thrill and rejoice” (Isaiah 60:5).

Sisters and brothers, you light has come!

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