Today is a particularly dark time of the year. We expect the weather to be dull and difficult. Once the Christmas decorations come down, we expect the months before Easter to be unattractive and plain, a time for self discipline and abstinence.
What we did not expect, was to start the New Year in virtual lock down. Not only have some of you been deprived of seeing loved ones for the last nine months, you have now been told that you will probably have to wait for another four months before sufficient of us have been vaccinated to create immunity from COVID 19.
None of us have ever experienced a time like this! All of us have experienced the loss of loved ones, some through death and some through not being allowed to hold loved ones near, to give hugs and share each others’ joy round a meal table.
I was reminded in a prayer I used at Janet’s funeral today, that our Heavenly Father has not made us for darkness and death but for life with him forever.
The readings for Epiphany reminds us that in dark times like these we are to “Arise, shine; for our light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.” We were born to experience light and glory, to enjoy life in all its fullness.
Our readings were all written in times of historical darkness. Israel had experienced exile. They may have returned to their land, but were left a defeated, impoverished race. Paul wrote to the Ephesians as a prisoner who was soon to suffer death by beheading and the magi visited Jesus during the reign of King Herod the Great. As a result of that visit many baby boys would be slaughtered and the holy family would have to flee for their lives into Egypt.
Isaiah spoke five hundred years before Jesus was born. He predicts that the Lord will arise upon his people and his glory would appear over them. With this hope in mind, he asks them to behave as if it had already happened. They wouldn’t be little and poor forever. Nations will come to their light, their exiles will return and the wealth of nations will come to them.
With the eye of faith the prophet Isaiah saw what others could not see. He laid hold of the future with such a faith that he lived his present life in the light, strength, and joy of that future.
Like him, we need to shine in the darkness, and let the certainty of our eternal future cause us to reflect the light of God’s glory to a world in darkness in the present. The light you shine may be the only hope they have of knowing that there is a light that can reach them and dispel the deep darkness in which they are living.
No more hiding under our duvets! “Arise, shine!” is a call to action, to rebuild and look forward to the time when our hearts shall thrill and rejoice.
What Isaiah could only predict has taken place. The Lord Jesus Christ has been revealed as the one who saves both Jews and Gentiles. God’s eternal purpose is revealed in him.
The Gentile Magi discovered this when they were drawn by the star to seek the Jewish Messiah.
Paul also discovered this when God made it clear that he was to go and share God’s love with the Gentiles.
Sharing God’s love and light with others is hard work. Paul suffered hardship, rejection and deprivation during his missionary journeys.
The Magi travelled a long way and had prepared for the Lord’s coming for a long time.
Historians of the day tell us they came originally from a Median tribe who tried to overthrow the Persians (current day Iran). Because they failed in their attempt, they stopped playing power games and became a tribe of priests, teachers of Persian Kings and adopted the same kind of role the Levites adopted in the Kingdom Of Israel. They were present when sacrifices were made; they were skilled in philosophy, medicine, and natural science. They were soothsayers and interpreters of dreams. They had read the Hebrew scriptures.
The Magi knew they were looking for a King greater than themselves, one who would bring salvation, so they bought costly gifts, gold fit for someone of royal lineage, frankincense, reflecting his role as a high priest offering up prayers and sacrifices to God, and myrrh for embalming his body after death. Somehow, they knew that Christ’s death was important.
Hard work and knowledge is important. God uses it.
More is needed if we are to see God’s light and glory move among us. We are to shine with a light that is not naturally our own, a light and glory which comes from Jesus.
When the star stopped, the wise men were not filled with fear like Herod or with indifference like the chief priests and scribes but overwhelmed with joy. They had found whom they were searching for, the one who would not just be the King of the Jews but the King of everyone who would love him and make a place for him in their hearts.
They knelt before their King as they had intended, in worship. The word used for worship is to kneel to kiss.
Wise people are humble before Jesus. We cannot come with our pride. He is King of our lives and we are not.
Wise people love Jesus and tell him. When we worship we come in adoring love and we bring all that we have before him.
The wise men needed more than their learning and great gifts. They needed God to guide them through the star and to warn them in a dream not to go back to Herod.
The Holy Spirit, who revealed who Jesus was to the early Christians lives in us if we spend time in worship and prayer. Paul says we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
Gifted, learned people are doing all they can to bring us out of this present darkness. I am thankful for the vaccines that have been developed and the hope they bring.
Those who have been battered and those who have lost loved ones and livelihoods need more than a vaccine. They need to receive the love and light of the Lord. When we receive Christ as our Saviour and Lord, the Holy Spirit indwells us and equips us to bless others. He enables us to minister Christ’s beauty and joy to hurting people and shine the light of truth that leads others to Christ.
As we spend time in Christ’s presence may we shine with the light of Christ. May you have a bright, shiny New Year!