January 25, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
“The Identity of the Savior”
We so deeply need the love of our heavenly Father, dear God. Fill us with faith and faithfulness. Conquer our fears and heal our hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your light in our darkness. Amen.
I have lived and worked with poor people several times in my life – I grew up in an upper-middle class family, mostly in Southern CA, but I went to High School with a mix of my upper-middle class neighbors and those who lived in the barrio of that town, low-income Mexican immigrants; our church adopted an orphanage in Baja CA, poverty stricken children dropped off by parents who could not afford to raise their own children; a government subsidized un-incorporated town in the wealthiest county in the nation; and two weeks ago on a Native village island in the Bering Strait.
In addition to the physical darkness of such places, there often exists a spiritual darkness that is much more consuming. But there is also often a spiritual bright spot that the darkness cannot overcome! At Valencia High School, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church gave hope and nourishment to its larger community; El Sauzal Orphanage serves the needs of dozens of hungry, homeless and frightened children every day; St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, along with 6 other churches, fill Marin City with music of worship and care for those in need; and Shishmaref Lutheran Church offers a place of grace and truth to a community without so much that we just take for granted.
These are ministries and individuals who are known as living examples of hospitality and care and God’s love by everyone willing to experience their service.
One story: Clifford Weyiouanna, a widowed elder on the Inupiaq island of Shishmaref, opens his home 7-days-a-week, anytime after 9:00am for sour dough hotcakes, bottomless cups of coffee, and warm Christ-filled fellowship, to anyone/everyone who knocks on his door – and then he offers his Snow Mobile or his sled or his knowledge or advice to anyone in need. And he does this simply because he knows how much God loves him through Jesus Christ and he wants to reflect that love with his whole life! Because of people like Clifford Weyiouanna, Shishmaref is known by every village in the Bering Strait School District as the friendliest place on earth! That is their identity!
Today is the fourth Sunday in the Season of Epiphany! January 6, is Epiphany. At Christmas, we celebrate the coming of light in the birth of Jesus. On Epiphany, in the Western Church we celebrate the manifestation of Christ’s light to all the world, as represented by the Gentile Magi from the East that visit the Christ Child.
The Greek word from which we get the word “Epiphany” is the verb phainein (“to show forth, to manifest, to bring to light, to cause to appear”). It is a sudden revelation or discovery (“I had an epiphany today!”), those moments when we say we “saw the light” – a “lightbulb moment!”.
In addition to being a Feast Day in the Church, Epiphany is a season in the life of the Church, continuing through Transfiguration Sunday (February 15, 2015), the Sunday before the season of Lent begins. Throughout this season of Epiphany, I have spent time in prayer, reflecting on two questions:
* Where or when has Jesus shown Himself to me today?
* Where or when did Jesus give me the opportunity to show forth His light today?
We experience great light in the truth that God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.
Hear the Word of God from the New Testament Gospel according to Matthew2:1-12 …. —-
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet [Micah] has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.
When the Magi hear of the one who has been born King of the Jews, they set out on a journey to find Him and to worship Him. Unlike the chief priests and teachers of the law, these Gentile Magi aren’t familiar with Micah’s prophecy concerning the location of Jesus’ birth. They assume it would be Jerusalem, where the royal palace is. Imagine their surprise when they learn His birthplace is in one of the “least among” the towns of Judah – in Bethlehem. They had expected the Messiah to show up in the royal palace, the rightful place of a king. Instead, He shows up in the most unexpected of places – an obscure house in an even more obscure town.
Think back over the past year, month, week. When have you seen God show up in unexpected places or at unexpected times in your life? In this church? In our community? In the world? At our Annual Meeting right after worship today, there will be a time to share those stories with the rest of us.
The Magi aren’t the only ones who want to worship Jesus. Herod also says he wants to worship Him (v. 8). Yet, as we learn later in the verses that follow, Herod’s intentions were very different from the Magi’s.
In this passage, we see two contrasting ways of seeking Jesus. One is marked by worship, the other by fear. One is characterized by receptivity, the other by hostility. One is governed by divine leading, the other by self-leading. The Magi know a King has been born, and they let His star’s light lead them to the Light. Yet when Herod receives the same knowledge of God’s plan, he plots to use it, not to promote God’s will, but his own.
But before we are too quick to judge Herod, consider our own motive: Do our goals and plans tend to promote more of God’s agenda or our own? How often do we resist the true king of the world and insist on being our own king? Like Herod, we often try to solve life’s problems and predicaments through control or self-protection or the insistence that we will receive what is rightfully ours.
But the Christ child is to be found in receiving, not grasping; in releasing, not claiming our rights.
Spend a few minutes reflecting on the past week. When have you resisted Jesus’ kingship over your life? When has your life been marked more by fear and control and less by worship?
Remember those two questions I have been asking myself – and which I encourage you to ask yourself every day – 1) Where or when has Jesus shown Himself to me today?
2) Where or when did Jesus give me the opportunity to show forth His light today?
Several hundred years before the Magi arrived at Herod’s palace, Isaiah (chapter 60) prophesied of a time when all nations and kings would be drawn to Jerusalem to see the King. The future scene that Isaiah paints is one of celebration and majesty. But at the time of his prophecy, the scene for the people of Judah was far from celebratory and majestic. As described in the first 39 chapters of the book, Isaiah has warned Judah of the judgment and exile about to come. Even now, they have begun to experience some of the predicted oppression and decline. Isaiah’s assurance of a future hope sounded like anything but reality in their hopeless present.
But that’s exactly the purpose of Isaiah’s prophecy: To give hope, not in the future, but in the present, because of the glory that will come … and is here now.
Isaiah doesn’t say, “Arise, shine, for your light will come”; he says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come” (v. 1). Isaiah acknowledges that there is darkness over the earth and the peoples. “But,” he says, “the LORD rises upon you, and His glory appears over you” (v. 2).
At Advent and Christmas, we celebrate the coming of our King at Bethlehem. We also look with anticipation to that future day when He will come again. Like Isaiah’s time, we, too, may see all kinds of darkness in the world and in our own lives. Yet, as followers of Christ, we are called to bear witness to His glory in the midst of the darkness, no matter how hopeful or hopeless things feel.
Twenty-seven hundred years after Isaiah’s prophecy and 2,000 years after the visit of the Magi, darkness still covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples. But thanks be to God, as we read last Sunday, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). As we seek to follow and bear witness to that Light, may you and I proclaim the reality that, “… the LORD rises upon us, and his glory appears over us” – even and especially when circumstances feel like anything but ….
We have an influence on the world around us!
Where is the Holy Spirit of God calling you to “arise” (Isaiah 60: 1) and bear witness to the hope we have in Jesus Christ? Where in your community or in the world might Jesus be inviting you to be a source of light and hope – to the end that “nations will come to Your light, and kings to the brightness of Your dawn … proclaiming the praise of the LORD”?
Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
Lock, Nicole; “The Identity of the Savior”; For Us and For Our Salvation: An Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Experience; Fellowship Community; 2014.