Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.” Those are not the words I was thinking while watching the Houston Texans game yesterday.
They are instead words from a book written long ago during a time of great despair by the prophet Isaiah. The setting was the city of Jerusalem. The year was about 700 years before Christ was born. These words were written to offer hope to a population living in a land devastated by war and desolation. People were hungry, tired, bored, and frustrated. They had no hope. They felt themselves in a great thick darkness that literally seeped into them.
To this assembly of peoples whose hopes had been broken, who had lost their possessions, their dreams, and perhaps their dignity, Isaiah says “the glory of the Lord has risen upon you . . . and his glory will appear over you.” Was that helpful to hear? I mean imagine you are downtrodden and nothing is going right in your life, and your problems seem never ending. If someone appeared and said darkness will cover the earth, thick darkness, but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory appear over you. Would you want to hear that? I don’t know.
I do know that when I personally feel surrounded by darkness, I tend to look for something bright. Call it the glory of the Lord or whatever you want – when I am in the midst of darkness – I try to find a way out. We all do that.
That’s the power of this day – a day we call Epiphany. On this day we recall another time when things weren’t going so great for the people of Israel. Seven hundred years after Isaiah spoke those words, a child was born in Bethlehem. We know the story – we heard it in Matthew’s Gospel. Wise men from the east (there’s an oxymoron for you – “wise man”) they came from the east, following a bright light, in the sky, which brought them to Bethlehem.
“Nations shall come to your light, and kings to brightness of your dawn,” writes Isaiah in our reading today, a foreshadowing of the visitation of the magi, the wise men, the three kings.
This story of a group of people following a bright light is not unprecedented in the Bible, by the way. It occurs elsewhere, and much earlier, in the story of the Exodus, when the Hebrew people followed a pillar of fire by night that lead them to Israel, where centuries later, a distraught group of people would gather to hear a prophet named Isaiah proclaim to them that the glory of God would one day appear to them.
I love these stories in the Bible of people following a light or a pillar of fire in the darkness, because that is our story, too. All of us are following something, and the something that we choose to follow, is taking us somewhere. The question becomes – what are we following, and where is it taking us?
I have spent much of my life following the wrong things. The typical garbage: status, prestige, popularity. I spent so much time following the wrong things that I like to say that I am a really good example of a bad example of what not to follow. But when I started to put God first in front of everything else – things began to change, for the better. Not overnight. But over time.
It’s easy to feel consumed by darkness, and if you do, remember Isaiah’s words – that the glory of God will appear upon you. Because the glory of God will always appear to the person who is humble and ready to receive it. [PAUSE].
Last week I was having a conversation with a person and this person didn’t know what my job was. And I eventually told him and upon hearing that I’m a priest, the person said “well, I think plumbers help more people than pastors do.” What a great statement. I was so glad he said that. It was exactly what I needed to hear. And maybe he’s right.
All any of us can do, is follow where God leads us. Whatever form of light God might be for you– a bright star, a pillar of fire, words said long ago from an ancient prophet, or an insulting comment from a friend – whatever it is – follow it, because God has a holy path set for you to walk upon. We don’t know where it goes, all we have to do is walk towards the light, even if we are surrounded by darkness – taking one step at a time. AMEN.