Sunday, January 04, 2015

Light's True Radiance - Epiphany Sunday 2015

Isaiah 60:1-8
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.  Those who follow me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Our Lord also said in His Sermon on the Mount, You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  And even though Jesus does not seem to place conditions upon those whom He refers to as “light”, He nevertheless follows up with insisting this “light” must not be hidden but must shine brightly for all to see, “so that all may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Pope John Paul II once observed, “In becoming flesh, the Son of God was manifested as light.  He is not just an external light in the history of the world, but a light within the human person, in his personal history.  He became one of us, giving infinite meaning and immortality to our earthly existence” (“Homily on Epiphany”, 6 January 2002,

So in both the Son of Man and humanity itself, we find the essence of epiphany; “illumination”, a “manifestation”, an “insight”, an “understanding”.  This is especially important for the Holy Church when we consider this newborn “King of the Jews” had cast a star’s light to the Gentiles, these “wise men from the east” who were somehow compelled by the star’s radiance to follow its light to wherever they would be led.  Into the unknown, these men moved from their “darkness” and into the Radiance which was before them.

This is pretty powerful stuff especially when we consider that the entire First Testament was written by Jews for Jews; and yet this entire Testament speaks of The Lord’s unending quest that no one – not even the Gentiles – should perish.  Speaking to His own people in exile, The Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold!  My servant whom I uphold … He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles … I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles …” (42:1, 8).

Of course New Testament folks will insist that Isaiah 42 is entirely about Jesus, a prophecy of the coming Messiah.  Perhaps so since it certainly reads that way when looking backward from the New Testament, but let us not overlook the hope that is being cast to the Gentiles through Israel, The Lord’s “beloved”.  Somehow The Lord’s chosen people are to fulfill their own Divine Calling by being “the light of the world” rather than to merely wait for that Light. 

Surely it can be said that Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, was very likely speaking to Jews rather than to Gentiles.  So even though Jesus does rightly claim to be the “light of the world” in John’s gospel, Jesus also reminds the people themselves that they still have a task as The Lord’s own people, “chosen” as they were from long before to “give glory to your Father in heaven … through your good works– that is, deeds of mercy and justice.

Today many are quick to point out that God’s people – whether Jewish or Gentile believer – have failed miserably at this important task.  Even the prophet Ezekiel seems to be speaking to us today: “When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live?  None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered …” (18:24)

You’ve no doubt heard the saying that a thousand atta-boys are destroyed by one ‘uh-oh’?  I wonder if they were referring to Ezekiel.  Yet its truth cannot be denied, that somehow we are more inclined to remember the bad than to remember the good.  Speaking of the Church in general, our hypocrisy (actually, our humanity which can be denied by no one except the most blatantly arrogant) is very easily highlighted, but the enduring work of the Church – hospitals, orphanages, schools in the big-fat-middle-of-nowhere, ministries of all kinds, the very churches themselves – is largely ignored.  “The Light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5, NKJV).

Yet NRSV offers the same passage interpreted with a whole different perspective, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.  One version (NKJV) makes a statement, an observation; but the NRSV makes a declaration, a proclamation … a Promise.  Try as they might, the enemies of the Church who insist upon personal comfort in darkness do not “comprehend” the Radiance of the Light which is upon the entire world, and even by their angry words and accusations will not “overcome” that Radiance.  Not if we’re faithful.  And I do not mean that we merely “believe”; I mean if our faith is manifested in our works according to our faithfulness.

This is our assurance that as we persevere in the Light of the World by being the Light of the World, we resolve to never again take for granted that which has been given to us: a charge, a commission, a holy task and privilege in which the “lamp” entrusted to our care is joyfully placed on the “lampstand” in all its Radiance and all its Glory – all by our works of mercy and justice.  Yes, even as we often fail to light the lamp as we should, we nevertheless persevere because we have seen the Light. 

We have tasted its goodness, and we have seen its glory – and we have embraced the certain reality that such blessing is not given in a void or to an empty promise – and certainly not given carelessly.  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth … so shall My word be that goes from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

In this New Year – and with a renewed sense of purpose AND promise – let us become once again the Light into which we are called.  Let us embrace – again AND for the first time ever – the Hope that is within us, and let the works of justice and mercy of this church glorify our Father who is in heaven, the Holy One who has redeemed the entire world.

Let us resolve to be the Light’s True Radiance – now and forever.  Amen.

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