Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12 & Matthew 2:1-12
God speaking through the prophet Isaiah tells His children to “Rise and shine! Your light has come!” even though at that time Messiah had not yet come and they still were enveloped in darkness.
In our Gospel reading we read that Jesus is born in dark times. Don’t skip over the line of our Gospel, “In the time of King Herod…” Herod was a cruel king who killed innocent children and others at will. His was an oppressive reign of terror.
Yet mystically and magically men—foreign dignitaries who studied the stars—travel countless miles to find Jesus. They come saying, “We observed His star at its rising…” In the darkness God was at work. Amidst the political, social, personal horror of a world gone awry God enters the scene.
Matthew says when the magi find the place where Jesus is born they were thrilled with excitement. “When they saw that the star had stopped they were overwhelmed with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).
In this crazy world God shouts through the prophet Isaiah: Rise and shine, people of God, your light has come!
God has come to us in the here and now. We have questions about the future. We are concerned about politics and security. There are many things we don’t know. We are growing older. We have problems that mount to the sky. Our eye sight is failing. Our hearing is waining. Our finances are stretched thin. Our health is gone. Our bodies are imperfect and aging.
We struggle with insecurity, loneliness, depression, longings that we cannot put names to, what-not-all. And God’s light is penetrating the darkness. Here are some stories to illustrate:
Lori Ann’s doctor led her into the X-ray room. “If we are lucky, it’s pneumonia.”
It was not pneumonia. The following months were filled with tests, surgeries, heart catheters, stays in intensive care units, emergency flights to the hospital…and learning about end-stage heart failure.
Lori Ann was healthy. Her blood pressure was great, her cholesterol level perfect, her health pristine. Her family history showed no risk factors for heart disease.
“A crevice opened up beneath me as I read, ‘high risk of sudden cardiac arrest’ on my medical record” she writes in the January 2020 issue of Christian Century.
Darkness. Doom. Bad news. Yet she writes that God was at work. Her faith community surrounded her with prayers, food and loving support.
Then she was hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy. The doctors discussed her precarious condition and the risk of surgery because of her weak heart. They ordered an echocardiogram and discovered her heart function had somewhat, inexplicably, become normal!
Lori Ann writes, “God had used those months to bind my faith into something stronger than it could ever have been in perfect health. I guess you could say I was lucky it wasn’t pneumonia.”
God shining in the darkness. An incredible epiphany moment.
Mary, in the same Christian Century journal writes about her time in the darkness. Her husband had just recently retired when he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. Twenty years earlier he had battled his first bout with cancer. Surgeries, drug therapies and tube feedings saved him. But, now, cancer again?!
The doctors recommended removing his tongue and replacing it with a new tongue from a thigh tissue graft. Could he speak afterwards? How would his swallowing be affected? And never being able to taste food again! Would he survive? The doctor said, maybe better than a 50/50 chance, but no promises.
Then in her devotional readings Mary re-read the story of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana in John 2. She read the phrase, “the wine gave out.” She also read Jesus’ mother’s response, “do what ever He tells you.”
Tears streaming down her face, Mary cries out to God “Do something! We are out of wine here!”
“With God’s help, 12 difficult weeks after my husband’s surgery, we are rising each day with no small amount of joy, despite the ongoing struggles. We are more aware than ever of the preciousness and potential in each moment, taking nothing for granted. Trusting God to help us live fully and lovingly, we inhabit the life we have, a life overflowing with care from family and friends, and with opportunities care for others and for creation. The new vintage of wine offered us has notes of creativity, heart, vulnerability, grace, and grit.”
God’s love and grace shining in the darkness. Mind you, the darkness may not completely go away, but please be aware of God’s light and love penetrating and breaking through the darkness! An epiphany moment indeed!
One more story, also from this January’s issue of the Christian Century.
The setting is Hawaii. The author writes about a yellow school bus ride being interrupted. A high school student, she was with a group of other high school students returning from a field trip to a publishing house. The school bus is stopped. Her pastor boards the bus, speaks to the driver, comes back to where she is sitting and simply tells her to “follow me.”
She is gripped with fear. They enter her family home that is filled with family and friends. You can imagine the fearful thoughts running through this young high schooler’s mind.
“Your brother died today in a plane crash.” He was a jet pilot. His plane had mechanical problems and crashed. He did not survive.
Norma, the writer who shares this heartbreaking story says she stopped trusting God. As a teenager she had been in church twice a week—choir practice on Wednesday and worship every Sunday. She had prayed every night before going to sleep. But now all that stopped.
She was angry with God and stopped believing. She didn’t crash and burn. She didn’t use drugs, or become an alcoholic. She simply stopped believing and trusting in God through Jesus.
She became an atheist. Other things filled her life. Sunday mornings were for sleeping in. She married an engineer, lived as successful life, had children.
“Then one summer afternoon,” she writes, “several mothers and I were with our children at a pool party. Suddenly my son came up to me and said, ‘Mom, Anne is at the bottom of the pool.”
Her daughter Anne is rushed to the hospital emergency room. Norma freaks out. Who can she turn to now?! God had let her down with her brother. Norma’s best friend, Edna, is a member of a nearby Catholic Church. Together they go to the church’s unlocked doors and pray.
“I returned to the One who had brought me joy and hope as a young teenager. I prayed desperately, ‘Oh, Lord, if You let her live, I will serve You the rest of my life!’”
Three days later this young mom walks into her daughter’s ICU room and is shocked to see her little girl pink-cheeked and smiling. “Can I go home?”
God in the darkness! A ray of hope shining through the gloom. Norma says her anger with God dissolved that day and she realized that even through death and sadness and loss she was wired to know and love and follow her Savior. Jesus had not abandoned her even through her loss. And now, He hands her back her daughter, alive.
Neither you nor I know what 2020 holds in store. Most of us are wired to be positive despite gloom and doom clouds in our personal lives and in our crazy world. Some of us will experience loss. We will taste failure and pain. Yet we will also taste the wine of joy and gladness because our Savior Jesus will not abandon us—no matter what.
We can not control the future. We cannot change most of the things in our lives. But we can control where our gaze of faith focuses. We can look to Him who is the author and finisher of our faith and cling to the One who holds fast to us.
In Jesus’ name. Amen,.