“Drawn Towards the Light”
Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:12
January 6, 2008
Plymouth Creek Christian Church
In the summer of 1984, I was fourteen. I was part of the cross-country team in high school, and the coach thought it would be a good idea to go up to a state park in northern Michigan to train before school started. I should state at the begginning that I am NOT the world's best runner. I wasn't then, and as I am nearing forty, I can tell you that I am NOT the world's greatest runner now. Anyway, I went with several other team mates to train. During the evenings, we would walk from the campground to the lodge, which was probably a good mile or two away. We would hang out and play pool and listen to the radio. When we were done and headed back, we made our way down a very, very dark road. It was scary, but I knew I wasn't alone, so I could deal with it.
Well, one evening, we were at the lodge and I decided to go to the restroom. When I cam back, my fellow team mates were gone. They had met some local girls and decided to head down to the lake. This was just great, I was no alone and I didn't know what to do. I could try to follow them down the tricky path to the lake, or I could just walk back to the campground. Neither option was that pleasant, but I went for door number two and started walking back to the campground.
Did I say walking? I meant running for dear life. The road was pitch black and I could not see in front of me. I probably did my best mile ever. Here I was running alone in the darkness. I was incredibly scared.
At some point, I saw a light. I felt a sense of relief. I went to the door and knocked. A woman came to door and I franticly explained my situation and asked for ride to the campground. I didn't want to continue on this dark road. For whatever reason, the woman did not offer much help except to say that I was not far from the campground. So proceeded on the dark road. I saw a small glimmer of light ahead that broke through the darkness. I kept running and the light grew and multiplied. I started to give thanks to God as I realized I was nearing the campground. I was finally home and the complete darkness was replaced by the warm glow of a campfire.
Today is Epiphany. It is the time on the church calendar, we remember the Wise Men from the East who came to visit Jesus and present him with gifts.
I have to say that this story of the Magi has always fascinated me since I was a little kid. I loved to sing “We Three Kings,” and there was something interesting in those very biblically incorrect nativity scenes that showed some people that looked like me.
There is something mysterious about these guys. We don't know where they are from, or how the knew about the Christ child. All we know is that they arrive in Herod's palace asking about Jesus and they leave the scene as mysteriously as the came.
Epiphany though isn't about the Magi, but about the revelation of God into our world. As I read today's gospel and the Isaiah text, I was reminded that this passage has a lot to say about those of us who follow Christ and what it means to be light in a dark world.
The gospel text opens up with the Wise Men arriving in Jerusalem. They had seen the star and followed it as far as Jerusalem. These powerful men decided to ask King Herod for help in finding the child. The King, who appointed by Rome to rule over the Jewish lands, was concerned. The Wise Men called this baby the “king of the Jews.” Well Herod knew who was the King of the Jews and in his mind, it was some kid in diapers. He alerts the religious leadership which then goes to work. They find a prophecy that confirms what the Magi said. Herod tells the Wise Men where the baby is and then asks them to bring world of the young king so that he may also go and worship the child. Of course this was a lie, he wanted to get rid of the competition.
The Wise Men find the child and present him with gifts and worship him.
Isaiah seems to be forshadowing this event. It starts off saying, “Arise and Shine, for your Light has come!” The writer talks about how nations will come to this light and how they will worship God.
As I was putting together this sermon, I noticed two things. First, even though the Wise Men are supposed to be the “star” of the passage, in many commentaries, Herod is the chief actor in the story. Many commentators want to focus on the fact that the powers have much to fear from the birth of Jesus. While I agree with that, and Herod is afraid of of the baby Jesus, he is not the main character of this story, nor is his desire to remain in power- it's the Magi who are the main characters, these people who are true outsiders and are drawn to the light. The second thing I noticed is how these passages remind us that many are still drawn to the light and that they are knocking on the doors of churches to see the Christ.
In our world today, there are many like the Wise Men who are looking for Christ, looking for the light. They are our loved ones, our friends and our workmates. Sometimes they come to our churches wanting to seek the Christ. What will they find here? Will they find Christ or will it be a Herod and the priests, who seemed to be more interested in wordly things than in the things of God?
Christ is present in the world. The way most people know of Jesus is not simply the words find in the Bible, but in the lives of Christians. When we publicly live as Christ would have us to live, people are drawn to the presence of God.
The light of Christ is in the world, but it can only be known when those who dare to call themselves Christians are living in the light.
As a gathered community, you are dealing with a time of transition as start to search for a new pastor. You also probably using this time to find out who you are as a congregation. As you go through this time of discernment, please remember that what matters as the body of Christ is not simply how big the congregation is, not the programs, but what impact we are having on the community around us. Are we the light in the distance? Are helping to reveal Christ to the world around us?
All around this church, there are people dealing with homelessness, or poverty, or loneliness. How can we reach out to them in the love of Christ? When you all give food to the hungry, when you walk for CROP or AIDS Walk, when you do make food packets for needy and hungry children around the world, you are revealing Christ to others in this world. Herod and the priest had all the technical knowledge of prophecy and religion, but in the end, it meant very little because their lives will filled with indifference and envy, that which doesn't reveal Christ to others. There are congregations have might have all the best programs, and best preachers, but if the Magi of today walk in their doors, they will not see Christ.
When the Wise Men finally found Jesus, they gave gifts and worshiped him. So it is when today's Magi find Christ, they will give worship to Christ when they see it happening. And they should see that happening in the gathered community of believers called the church.
When I was 14, that light shining in the distance have me hope. When the Magi finally found the baby Jesus they were filled with joy. So should it be when people encounter God's followers. When the encounter a place where they are welcomed and loved; a place where they are fed when hungry, clothed when naked, befriended when lonely.
Arise and shine, for your light has come. Amen.