The Road to Radiance

Epiphany Sunday

Introduction

Arise, Shine! For your light has come.

Today is Epiphany Sunday. It is the day we celebrate the coming of the wise men, or the magi. These were powerful people who heard God’s call and submitted themselves. They recognized that their own roles were only a small part of God’s greater plan for the glory of the kingdom. They felt called to go and do the right thing.

They were called to follow the light.

What a journey we have been on this Christmas. What a journey we have been on this year. It has a been a year unlike any other.

“Unprecedented times.”

But here we are, in 2021, at the end of the road.

I was particularly drawn to our theme of journeying along a road this Advent & Christmas season because that is how this year as felt to me, more than any other year- a journey along a road.

Journeying, reaching for a destination. For much of this past year, we were lost. It felt like we were stuck going in circles and there didn’t seem a way out. On occasion, we found some beautiful scenery along the side of the road as we heard stories of good people doing good thing for those who were affected by the pandemic. But then, we hear news of another lockdown- over the Christmas season nonetheless, and maybe our road becomes dark again, shaded over with trees. Perhaps the road enters into a dark tunnel. On the horizon, we hear the news of vaccines- and perhaps, just perhaps, we see a glimmer of light at the end of that tunnel, or the sun begins to rise on our dark, dark night.  

As we follow the church year, we are on the same journey. Finally, Jesus has been born. The world has been given the gift of light. We, like the magi, have been on this journey through darkness and into light.


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east and we’ve come to honor him. When King Herod heard this, he was troubled and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea…” Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.”

“When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.”

-Matthew 2-


This story is a classic good and evil story. There are the good guys (the magi) who don’t know that the bad guy (Herod) is actually a bad guy. They trust him and then everyone reading the story gets really nervous and says, “Come on Magi, how could you not know! Herod is a bad guy!” until finally at the end of the story they make the right decision and yay! The bad guy’s plan failed.

If Hollywood made a movie about this, that’s what it would be like. Everyone would feel relieved when the Magi turn to take a different route home. The Magi would argue about it for awhile amongst themselves to keep everyone in suspense but eventually, they would all make the right decision. A happy, joy filled ending, the wise men are the heroes of the story but God is the ultimate hero of the story who told the wise men to go back a different route.

If this was a news story? It would be the opposite. The news would cover all about how Herod was evil and how “reports say” that he wanted to kill the child. His face would be plastered everywhere with “killer” in red letters. The news would comment about how Herod was still king despite the obvious ways he was doing immoral things. There would be comments crying for Herod and his family to be sent to jail, to be killed for the outrageous things that he had done and then a few comments that say, “but obviously the government won’t do anything about it, it’s useless anyway” and that comment would have 100 likes, 10 hearts on it and 1 laughing face.

People would share the article about Herod being an evil king over and over again on their social media fees and people would get madder and madder and eventually, the fact that the wisemen came to visit the baby Jesus, saw a vision from God and saved the day by going back a different route would be forgotten.

Jesus, the light of the world, has come and shed light on our journey. We are radiant in the light of his love and grace.

Often, we forget about the light in the world. We forget to seek the powers of our own world who seek to overcome the darkness in the world. We forget to give glory to God, the one who gave us Jesus. We forget that Jesus himself is working in the world and leading us in ways that show us God’s righteousness and justice.

Arise, your light has come

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. Darkness covers the earth but the Lord’s glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

So often, we look to the bad instead of the good. So often, we make the Herods famous and forget about the magi and God’s work with the magi entirely.

So often, we talk only about the bad that is going on in our world. It’s in our conversation in our day to day, in our week to week, in our workplaces, in our churches.

“Hey, did you hear about that terrible thing that person did?”

What about the stories of radiance, the stories of joy, the stories of God’s riches in this world?

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

What if we told different kinds of stories to each other?

2020 was a crap year. We had COVID, riots, systemic racism became apparent, floods, forest fires, terrible injustices and inequalities.

But here are some OTHER things that happened in 2020.

In September, it was announced that up to 48 bird and mammal species have been saved from extinction by international conservation efforts. They include the Asian crested Ibis, yellow-eared parrot, Hawaiian crow, spoon-billed sandpiper, red wolf, black-footed ferret and pygmy hog.

Arise, shine for the light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

Ghana, Indonesia and Vietnam are among the nations accelerating action on plastic waste as part of a global partnership tackling plastic pollution. Indonesia has pledged to reduce marine plastic debris by 70% by 2025. Ghana has committed to achieving a 100% circular economy for plastics and Vietnam has committed to a 75% cut in marine plastics by 2030.

Arise, shine for the light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

The World Health Organization has validated Myanmar for eradicating trachoma, which was a disease responsible for 4% of all cases of blindness in Myanmar in 2005.  This is something that Myanmar has been working towards since 1964.

Arise, shine for the light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

These are the good news stories.

We talk about the leaders in developing countries who are imposing violence on their nations. We talk about leaders in our neighbouring countries who seem to be the worst they possibly could be. We talk about how the earth is in environmental despair. We talk about how there is not enough food to feed the world. We talk about the wars that never stop, the famine that engulfs our lands, the natural disasters that ruin homes, the bad weather that makes our crops produce less than they should. We say all these things and we cry for justice and we say “Where is our God?”

But our God is here.

We just aren’t looking.

We aren’t looking for stories of country leaders committing to reducing greenhouse gases, for breakthroughs in cancer research, for stories of species being saved and peace being made. These are the good news stories. These are the stories that show God working in our world. These are the stories that we need to share.

Yes, it is important to talk about the injustices of the world and to cry out for injustices and help those in need. However, when we are the ones who are helping, who are crying out for justice, we may become more of those good news stories that are so desperately needed in our world. You cannot focus only on the bad news stories without focusing also on the good. When we focus solely on the bad news stories and share articles where people comment who have the same mindset as us, we are doing no good. We aren’t helping anyone, we are simply sharing the bad news and getting stuck in this bad news rut that does not show the power of God.

The gospel writer in Matthew had it right. He talked about the Magi and celebrated them in the story. It could have been portrayed very differently. He could have talked a lot more about how terrible Herod was because I’m sure he was terrible. But he chose instead to focus on the good. To focus on the good news of the Magi seeing the star and going to visit their newborn King. These were men of earth who were important and honoured in their own way and homeland. They played a significant role in going on this long journey to find this baby, this light, and his mother. They brought him gifts to show how important this move was to worship the newborn King.

God used the wisemen and the power of the world that they represented to show the rest of the world how God is working in the world through Jesus. Let’s spread those glimmers of light. Next time you see a news article, I encourage you: think about whether sharing that article on Facebook is important or not. Will it show people the joy of Christ? Or will it just cause arguments or make you feel justified about your beliefs.

I encourage you to think about the way your conversations are guided. Do you immediately bring up political strife and expect others to agree with you? Do you bring up the latest thing on the news that people are getting upset about? Try a kind story about something that happened to you. Share what brought you joy this Christmas season.

There is enough bad news in the world, we, as Christians, don’t need to be the ones who are spreading it. It is our job to spread the joy of Christ, the light of Christ, to show others that the power of God is present in the world.

God is working in this word, and in order to show that to people, we need to tell others about the good news stories. The stories that have light, joy, the stories that are about prominent people in a different country going to worship a newborn baby because they believe that he is the Son of God.

Focus on the light, focus on the good. Don’t forget that God is working in our despairing world and that, most importantly, Jesus gives us the hope that we find in these good news stories.

 Amen.