Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany, Year B, 2009
Sunday, January 4, 2009 (translated)
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Isaiah 60:16; Matthew 2:1-12
“Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you!”
The author of the book of Deuteronomy wrote these words: “This day, I set before life and death, blessing and curse, choose life!” And never are these words more relevant than in the Epiphany gospel. Indeed, one might say that they reach the summit of their meaning in the appearance and manifestation of our Lord. For today we hear the tale of such a choice. Today we hear the tale of a king who cowered before such a choice and chose the way that would lead to the slaughter of innocents, and ultimately to his own destruction. Today we also hear the tale of wise men from the east, kings perhaps, who chose not to walk in darkness, but follow the glimmer of a distant star and walk, instead, in the light.
The prophet Isaiah proclaims that a light has shined and that the glory of the Lord is risen upon us. For us, as Christian people, we believe that light to be the light of Christ. But there is an irony in Isaiah’s words, for even as he speaks of the coming light and the glory of the Lord rising, he foretells darkness covering the earth. That darkness, of course, is the darkness that clings to power when it knows its defeat is imminent; it is the darkness that thinks it has won the day when Christ hung lifeless on the cross. Yet, this is the darkness that ultimately dissipates when morning breaks and the bright Sun of Righteousness rises triumphantly. These truths are foreshadowed in the words of Isaiah, and they come to fruition in the coming of kings from the east to worship the light of the world, and sadly, in the resistance of a Judean king to the light.
Wise men came from the East, drawn and led by a distant light. The light they saw was in the sky – a glimmer in the distant night. And this light was but a glimmer of the light they encountered as they knelt before the Light of the World, lying in lowly estate. They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but although they offered him gifts of earthly wealth, they offered him something more, the gift of themselves. Wise men, who could read both the stars and the signs of the times; wise men, possibly even kings of the Orient, recognized in this tiny boy, the true light – the light that was coming into the world. Recognizing that that light was the light of all people, they clung not to their own royal kingship but rendered themselves, their rule, and their very being unto the King of Kings, Christ the Lord.
There was another king, though, who was blind to the light. He could not read the skies nor prophetically take the pulse of the times, nor did he offer himself or his dominion to this newborn king. Rather, he clung selfishly and duplicitously to a precarious power that was not even his own, for this king was but a client of the Roman Imperial power. This Herod, an Idumean usurper of the Judean crown, clung so tenaciously to his fragile crown that he lost himself, his humanity, and left a wake of destruction in his frightened path.
Kings from the East and a king of Judea -- the former found their identity in submission to the Light of the World, while the latter lost himself by choosing to hide in the darkness. Kings from the East, drawn by a light, and a king of Judea, cowering in the shadows under the illusion of power – and between them both, the Kings of Kings, lying in lowly estate, a light shining through the darkness. Before them lie a choice -- to worship him or cut him down.
This is not simply the choice of kings, potentates, and wise men. It is a choice that is ever before the world. A light shines in the darkness, and yet darkness still covers the Earth. A light shines and those at a great distance catch a glimpse of its glimmer and seek it out. A light shines in the darkness and those close to its source cannot see it for they have been devoured by a darkness of their own making. But the light ever rises and his star is ever there to follow. It is never too late to see his star at its dawning and come and kneel before him.
The choice is ever before us to seek out the light, to search for its glimmer of hope amongst the darkness of this world, to see his star at its rising and to lay our gifts at his feet, feeble or grand as those gifts may be. The world may tempt us with promises of power and alternative glories. We may be tempted down dark roads that at first seem light but ultimately lead us to harm ourselves and others. Did Herod believe that he was doing the right thing for the people of Judea? Perhaps. Did he believe that clinging to his precarious power would keep the Roman overlords at bay? Perhaps. We can often choose dark roads with the best of intentions, but consider the consequence of such a choice; consider the slaughter of the innocents along the way.
How do we know the way? How shall we discern the light? Which star shall we follow amidst the many that glimmer in the night sky? It is the star that rests over a humble stable, not a palace of power. We know the light because it does not overpower us, but illumines us, warms us, enlightens the path peace. We know the light because it is the light that shines when we face the darkness of death and night with words that proclaim, “I am with you, even through the valley of the shadow of death.” It is a light that binds folk of good will together, rather than bringing estrangement. It is the light of a babe born in humility and laid in a manger for his bed.
Be assured, my friends, we have seen and borne witness to this light. At the font, and at the rail before the altar, we have been touched by the light of Christ and even held him in our hands. We receive him week by week and feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving. We have seen his star at its rising and we have become partakers of his Risen Life! The wise men only had a distant star and a faint hope. We are marked forever as his own in baptism. As witnesses to his Resurrection we have beheld his rising star in a way that those wise men never could. His story has become our story. And thus, the prophet Isaiah presciently proclaims to us, “Arise shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” So we arise, saying “no” to the darkness that covers the earth. We arise as shining as stars, reflecting his light, dispelling the darkness of the night.
When darkness seeks to overcome us, he arises within us and overcomes the night. And when we lose hope or when others seek to suppress his light in us, fellow stars arise amongst in gentleness and shine forth, sharing his resurrection glory, one with another, innumerable as the stars of heaven, helping us to once again kneel before the Light of the World. Together, as a holy people, we shine and the darkness shall never extinguish his light, for he has illumined our night and we shall never be without his light. Let us kneel before the Light of the World and offer our gifts of adoration and thanksgiving, and then, let us arise that his light might shine out into every dark corner of this troubled world.
Copyright 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves -- this homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.