“Shine”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

January 5, 2014 – Epiphany Sunday

Scripture:  Isaiah 60:1-6

 

The stone walls of the temple lay in ruins.  Here and there, the remains of a cedar roof-beam poked up out of the rubble.  A bit of tattered linen flapped from what had once been a doorway.  A man walked by, head down, shards of broken pottery crunching underfoot.  You could hear women wailing nearby over the charred remains of their homes.  The city of Jerusalem had been reduced to rubble by the conquering armies of Babylon.  As the Israelites made their way home after decades of exile, they found devastation everywhere they turned.

And then, right there in the midst of the ruins, one voice cried out, loud and clear.  Isaiah said, “Arise!  Shine!  For your light has come!”  But the man walking by shook his head sadly and turned away.  And the women kept on wailing.  They didn’t see much light anywhere.

Isaiah said, “Darkness covers the earth and her peoples, but the glory of the Lord will arise upon you.  Lift up your eyes and look around!  Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.”  But all they heard was the first few words—Darkness covers the earth and her peoples…  The darkness was so heavy, the despair so deep… their hearts were doing anything but rejoicing.

But Isaiah’s heart was on fire, and he could not keep silent.  “Arise!  Shine!  For your light has come!”  Maybe it was just pure, stubborn persistence.  Or maybe that prophet knew something that everyone else had forgotten, something important about the God who is the Light of the World, the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.  Maybe his confidence was contagious, because pretty soon those women looked up from their weeping, and those men looked up from their pacing, and they started to hold their heads a little higher.  Pretty soon, there was a new sparkle in their eyes.  Pretty soon, there was a new glow in their faces and a new warmth in their hearts as they set about rebuilding their city until Jerusalem shined again like a beacon, calling her people home.

 

The voice of the prophet didn’t stop then.  It echoed on down through the centuries, and five hundred years later, in the splendor of a Persian court, the magi heard it.  They were up on the roof of the palace, under a clear desert sky, observing a particularly bright star on the horizon.  And they heard a voice say, “Arise!  Shine!  For your light has come!  Lift up your eyes and look around!”  And they consulted their charts, and they looked again at that star, and they saw that it told of the birth of the King of the Jews, and they set out to find him.

It was a long, hard journey across the desert.  Sometimes their camels stumbled, and sometimes the night grew cloudy and the light of the star was obscured, and they worried that they would lose their way.  They heard the incredulous voices of their friends back at home, saying, “You’re crazy!  What do you want to go travel across the desert for?”  Sometimes, when they were almost out of water, and there was no river or oasis in sight, and they thought they might perish of thirst, they almost started to believe those voices.  But the light they had seen burned in their hearts, and there was no turning back.  That star strengthened them and lit their path, all the way to the place where Jesus had been born.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, it sure didn’t look like the birthplace of a king.  A stable, not a palatial birthing-chamber?  A manger, not a cradle?  A motley collection of barnyard animals, not an adoring crowd of royal well-wishers?  And yet that was where the star had led them, of that they were sure.  They could still see its light shining brightly, illuminating the night all around them.  So they knelt down to pay homage to that little, stable-born king, and opened their chests, and offered him gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Maybe it was just pure, stubborn persistence.  Or maybe those magi knew something that everyone else had forgotten, something important about the God who chose to be born in such humble circumstances, to share the common lot of the poor and the outcast, to take on our every hardship so that we might not face them alone.  Maybe their confidence was contagious, because pretty soon, Mary and Joseph started to hold their heads a little higher.  Pretty soon, there was a new sparkle in their eyes.  Pretty soon, there was a new glow in their faces and a new warmth in their hearts as they set about raising that child who was, indeed, the Light of the World.

 

The voice of the prophet didn’t stop then.  It echoed on down through the centuries, and two thousand years later, in the simple beauty of a New England sanctuary, a congregation heard it.  “Arise!  Shine!  For your light has come!”  But they looked around themselves and thought, I don’t know about that.  We had Christmas Eve, we lit all those candles, we talked about the light that shines in the darkness… and now we’ve put away the Christmas trees and the manger scenes and the evergreen garlands and the twinkly lights, and life is returning to normal, and I’m just not sure anything has changed.

They looked around themselves and saw that darkness still covered the earth, and thick darkness the people.  They saw the bloodshed and violence spreading in South Sudan, and the winter descending on refugee camps in Syria…  They say the unemployment benefits ending, and the families struggling to make ends meet…  They saw the friend who has cancer, and the brother who isn’t speaking to his family, and the couple who desperately wants children but can’t seem to make it through the first trimester…  And they said, Where is that light now?

But then they hear Isaiah’s voice, echoing on through the centuries and across the miles.  “Arise!  Shine!  For your light has come!”  Maybe it’s just pure, stubborn persistence.  Or maybe that prophet really does know something that everyone else has forgotten, something important about the God whose love is, even now, making all things new.  In the midst of the darkness, they look again, and they see that light shining in the faces of the people around them.  And just for a second, they can see cease fires, and reconciled relationships, and green pastures to lie in, and a table set before them, and a cup that runs over for everyone.  Just for a second, they can feel how deeply God loves this world, how deeply God loves them.  And even when the moment passes, and the darkness swirls around them again, that light has wrapped itself around their hearts, and it will not let go.  They hold their heads a little higher, and there’s a new sparkle in their eyes, and there’s a new shine in their faces.  They can’t help but reflect that light.  They can’t help but arise and shine, because it just might be true, the light might really have come.

 

Sisters and brothers, as Christians in January, as Christians in the season of Epiphany, this is your call—to listen for the voice of Isaiah echoing in your ears, and to dare to believe that he is right.

As Christians in January, as Christians in the season of Epiphany, this is your call—to lift up your eyes, to see the world illuminated by God’s light, to be radiant yourselves, to reflect that light into every dark corner until the light is visible to everyone.  Somebody here needs to see it.  Maybe you need to see it.  Someone you know who is not here needs to see it, needs to know that the Christ-light is in the world, and it’s shining, and it’s growing.

As Christians in January, as Christians in the season of Epiphany, this is your call—not to kindle the light, for that is God’s work, but to glow, to gleam, to sparkle, to shine, to reflect that light throughout your life.

Maybe it’s just pure, stubborn persistence.  Or maybe that prophet really did know something that everyone else had forgotten.  Maybe those magi really did know something important.  Maybe this congregation really does know something about the God revealed to us in Jesus, the God who enters into our lives in the unlikeliest of places, the God who takes our worst mistakes and our deepest sorrows and redeems them.  Maybe, just maybe, Isaiah was right.

Friends, your light has come.  Now, shine.