“Mirror”

pdficon_small Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

January 4, 2015 – Epiphany Sunday

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

 

I have a story for you this morning. It’s the story of a man named Alexander Papaderos. He begins his story this way:

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.” [1]

Before we go on with the story, a few words of context. Alexander Papaderos was a native of Crete. In May 1941, with World War II in full swing, the German armed forces invaded Crete and attempted to evict the Allies from that strategically-located Greek territory in the Mediterranean Sea. For ten brutal days, the battle between world powers played out on an island smaller than the state of Connecticut. When all was said and done, the Germans emerged victorious, and they controlled the island for the next four years.

The local people did not take kindly to the occupation. They organized militias and carried out acts of resistance against the German forces, and they were punished with terrible retribution. Even to this day, the wounds of 70 years ago have not yet fully healed, and many people in Crete still feel a great deal of hostility toward the Germans.

Back to the story of Alexander Papaderos, who was an eight-year-old boy at the time of the invasion:

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

 

“I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. … And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine—in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.”

That eight-year-old boy must have heard today’s scripture readings when he went to church on Sundays with his family. He must have heard the voice of the prophet Isaiah. Arise! Shine! For your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! He must have heard about the star that hung in the sky over Bethlehem, the one the wise men saw at its rising, the one that guided them in their journey to pay homage to the infant Messiah. He must have known somehow that even in the darkest of times, the spark of God’s light is never extinguished.

The truth of God’s light that shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome must have burrowed its way down deep into Alexander Papaderos’ soul. He must have heard that truth echoing in his ears as he reflected the light with his tiny mirror into the darkest cracks and crevices he could find. He must have felt that truth stirring within him when, years later, he enrolled in seminary. He must have seen that truth shining before him as, twenty-five years after the destruction of his hometown, he founded an institute of reconciliation in Crete—an institute whose work continues today. He must have sensed that truth propelling him forward as he became a dedicated advocate for peace, as he organized dialogues, and conversations, and workshops, and lectures, and conferences—thousands of them—all in an effort to bring Germans and Cretans together for mutual understanding, healing, and reconciliation.

Here’s how Alexander Papaderos continues his story:

“I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light—truth, understanding, knowledge—is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

 

“I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world—into the black places in the hearts of men—and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”

In this season of Epiphany, we have an opportunity to consider the greater work of which we are but fragments. In this season of brightly-shining stars and slowly-lengthening days, we have a chance to consider our call to be mirrors for God’s light.

Where are the places in our world where you would reflect the glimmer that was revealed in the sky over Bethlehem, so many centuries ago? Where do you see darkness that needs to be illuminated? Where do you see injustice that needs to be called out? Where do you see systems that need to be changed?

Who are the people you know whose paths are in need of brightening? Who are the people you know whose lives are in need of transformation? For whom will you shine?

Where are the places in your life that need to be lit up by the radiance of God’s glory? Where do you need the spark of hope rekindled? Where do you need a glimmer of understanding? Where do you need a shimmer of joy?

How do you need to polish yourself up so you can reflect the light of Christ? In what way do you need to be burnished by God’s Spirit so that Christ’s reflection will be crystal-clear?

 

Here’s how Alexander Papaderos said it:

“I am not the light or the source of the light. But light—truth, understanding, knowledge—is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. … I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world—into the black places in the hearts of men—and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”

May it be so for us, too.

 

[1] Quoted in Robert Fulghum, It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It, p. 176