"Arise, shine; for your light has come."
I really like that idea -- that we are called to shine because our light has come.
Christ has come to transform our lives -- to lift us out of the darkness and into the light.
And we are called to then reflect that light into the world -- to be filled with divine light and carry it with us through the world, illuminating the darkness through which we travel.
On this Sunday of the Epiphany, we celebrate not only God's light breaking through in the person of the Christ child but also that Magi from afar sought out this Light.
Matthew's story of the adoration of the Magi purposely echoes Isaiah -- "Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. [...] They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Holy One" (Isaiah 60:3, 6b).
The Magi make the long journey from the East, asking, "Where is the child who has been born sovereign of the Jews? For we observed this child's star at its rising, and have come to pay homage to this child."
I don't imagine the Magi themselves were Jews, but they recognized that something special was happening -- in a land far from theirs, in a tradition and culture foreign to theirs, but important nonetheless.
Maybe they just wanted to build a political alliance. After all, they stopped at King Herod's rather than going directly to Bethlehem. Did they do a bad job of following the star? Did they think that the star wouldn't be the most efficient guide (traveling by night is surely suboptimal) and so they wanted some more explicit human directions?
Regardless, they follow the star to the place where the child is, and "when they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy" (Matthew 2:10). Their long journey is over. They have found what they were seeking.
Sometimes it is a long journey to that which will save us.
And sometimes we get sidetracked along the way -- we seek guidance from institutional leaders who turn out to want to destroy that which will save us because it threatens their power and stability.
But we always have stars to guide us.
The Magi were likely trained astrologers. They had been trained to read the signs in the sky. Thankfully for us -- particularly those of us living amidst air and light pollution -- we don't need to be able to read the night sky in order to find the Christ.
So how do we find Christ? The Psalm offers us some guidance.
In today's reading, the Psalmist invokes God's blessing on a sovereign, praying that this ruler may be righteous and have a reign which endureth.
May this one judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.Over and over again, words of a concern for the poor, the weak, the needy.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May this one defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
May this one live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May this one be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
In the days of this one may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
May all rulers fall down before this one, all nations give this one service.
For this one delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
This one has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence this one redeems their life
(Psalm 72:2:-7, 11-14a)
This is how you shall know the rightful ruler -- righteousness will abound. Our thoughts will be filled with metaphors of abundance -- of rain, of verdant mountains.
And there is the hope that rulers from far away will come and bring tributes of gifts and service -- not because of the power and might of this ruler but because this sovereign delivers those who have no advocate, redeems them from oppression and violence. There is a hope and a prayer that this be the model that the world will respect.
Of course, we know this is not exactly how it works.
Surely others had seen this strange new star in the East. The Magi are the only ones we hear about who cared enough to actually venture out -- to venture out on faith, I dare say -- and seek this new sovereign.
How often do we see signs that God is doing a new thing in the world -- proclaiming release to the captives and healing for the afflicted? And how often do we join our energies with those efforts? How often do we work for the freedom of all who are imprisoned and oppressed, for the healing of all those who have been broken by the world, for the full inclusion and participation of all who are different from us?
Epiphany Sunday reminds us not just that Christ reached out beyond borders of religion, nationality, and culture, inviting all into God's abundant grace, but that we are called to follow. We are called to leave our ivory towers, to not just study the stars but to go out and follow them. We are called out into the world -- out of our comfort zones and into the frightening and sometimes even dangerous world.
And it's worth it.
"On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary the mother; and they knelt down and paid homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:11).
An infant -- or anyone in a peasant family -- arguably has little use for precious metal or resins for incense and perfume, but those were the finest things the Magi had. They opened their treasure chests and poured out the contents in abundance. Similarly, we are called to let our hearts crack open, to pour out the abundant treasure of our lives and ourselves.
What gifts do we bring? How can we use those to honor the One who is the Source and Breath of all life? Can those of us who make friends everywhere we go find ways to make the stranger in our midst feel welcomed and beloved? Can those of us with contemplative spirits help teach the community the deep practice of listening for that still, small voice? Can those of us who are passionate about social justice out in the world find ways to light a fire for justice in our siblings here in the church, and help connect them with other bodies who are already doing work that will feed their souls and feed the world? Can we find ways to stretch ourselves, to grow in leadership and ministry in ways we might not have expected? Can we support each other so that no one burns out under the burden of trying to do too much? Can we challenge each other to trust in the sustaining power of the Triune God? Can we remind each other to take sabbath rest?
Paul writes, "Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8).
The boundless riches of Christ. Just as the Magi poured out their riches to honor the Christ child, so Christ desires to pour out on us the abundance of God's grace and mercy.
And we, all of us, even the least of us, are given the grace to bring to all the good news of the boundless riches of Christ. We are called, not to insist that people conform to a rigid doctrine, but to bring the good news of abundance to all. We are called to invite people into community life where they will be beloved for their whole selves. Where they can be honest about their struggles with mental illness, with unemployment, with painful family relationships, with grief. Where they can celebrate new lovers, milestones of sobriety, adopting a baby, finally getting a drug cocktail that works, their family of origin finally using the correct pronoun for them. Where they can be their whole, authentic, selves.
Christ calls us into new life.
A new life no longer imprisoned by cultures of shame around sexual orientation, gender identity or presentation, mental illness, "invisible" disability, class, immigration status, race or ethnicity, or anything else which our world tells us makes us "not good enough."
A new life in which we are all one body -- the Body of Christ. We are created in the image and likeness of God. That night two millennia ago, scholars perhaps from Persia (modern-day Iraq) saw the Face of God in an infant born to a peasant family in a small town in Palestine. We, today, as the Body of Christ, in all our diversity, reflect the Face of God to the world. We are the infant body of Christmas. We are the baptized body. We are the transfigured body. We are the feasting body. We are the fasting body. We are the broken body of Good Friday. We are the resurrected body of Easter.
We are fat, and we are healthy. We are thin, and we have dangerously high blood pressure. We are losing weight because we're too depressed to eat. We are gaining weight because we're now being properly medicated for our hyperthyroidism. We take the elevator because we travel in a wheelchair. We take the elevator because we have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. We don't always come to church because our social anxiety is so bad. We always come to church because it is the one place we know we will be safe. We are Deaf and blind -- not in the metaphoric ways that imply an inability or refusal to access the Truth but in the literal physical way.
We are the Body of Christ.
At the end of today's Gospel lesson, we read of the Magi that "they left for their own country by another road."
In other translations, "They returned by another way."
As a historical event, I am doubtful that encountering a human infant was a particularly transformative experience for them, but as myth, it's powerful -- they encountered Emmanuel, "God with us," and so they returned not through the way of the powerful of the world (Herod in Jerusalem) but by another Way. They returned transformed.
And so we are called to be transformed by our encounters with the Divine. My best friend's pastor says that we come to church because it is here that we "touch the face of God."
We are called to make our churches a place where everyone present can touch the face of God, and we are invited to be transformed by that experience, to go out and be the face of God for all whom we touch in the world.
This is the Good News: that your light has come. Now arise, shine.