Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 4, 2015

2015.01.04 “Rise and Shine!” – Epiphany Sunday – Isaiah 60: 1 – 6; Matthew 2: 1 – 12

Central United Methodist Church
Rise and Shine!
Pastor David L. Haley
Epiphany Sunday
Isaiah 60: 1 – 6; Matthew 2:  1 – 12
January 4th, 2015
Adoration_of_the_three_kingsbrian_whelan

“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.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
(Isaiah 60: 1 – 3, NRSV)

So here is my charge to all of us on this first (gloomy) Sunday in the year of our Lord 2015: Rise and Shine! It is not original; it originated some 2,600 years ago, with an ancient Hebrew prophet named Isaiah. It is a call to all of us to perceive and to participate in the glorious work of God in the world.

Before you can say, “O go away,” I invite you to think with me about this invitation from Isaiah to “Rise and Shine:” what it meant when Isaiah spoke it; what it came to mean for the birth of Christ, and what it means for us today.

Usually, most of us would confess we do not like to hear “Rise and Shine,” especially early in the morning, and especially when someone says it to us, as those of us who are parents will likely be saying to our children in about 20½ hours, when they need to wake up for the first day back to school after 2 weeks of Christmas holidays.

And of course, children are not the only ones who don’t like to hear it. When I was a firefighter/paramedic, and we’d have a night where we ran around a lot and didn’t get much sleep, our officer would do us the favor of turning on the lights, kicking our bunks, and saying “Rise and Shine” or something less printable at 7 am, an hour before the oncoming duty crew arrived. We rose; but I wouldn’t say we shined. Anybody who’s served in the military knows what I’m talking about.

When Isaiah said this about 2,600 years ago to the people of Judah, I don’t think they were any happier for it, either.  You may remember the situation: the Jewish people had returned from 70 years of exile in Babylon, to be very disappointed with the situation they found in their homeland, in the bombed-out city of Jerusalem, and especially with the Temple which had been built in the place of Solomon’s Temple after its destruction.

So, in the midst of their discontent, the prophet says to them, “Rise and Shine,” which was about like kicking the bunk of sleeping people. In other words, “Shape up people, put a smile on your face and give thanks to God, because you may not believe it, but God has been gracious to you, and it will get better.” You may not believe it, but the time is coming when “nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”  They probably didn’t believe that any more than me telling you that this will be the year the Cubs win the pennant.

And what Isaiah predicted: did such a thing ever happen? The early Christian writers, and especially the author of Matthew’s Gospel, thought so, they said it happened when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It may well have been the inspiration of this text that gave birth to the story we celebrate today, on Epiphany Sunday, when we remember Matthew’s story about the Magi – those wise men or kings as we often call them, who – following the light of a star – came from the East to offer homage and gifts to the new King born in Bethlehem.  Even though it was a time of darkness, of occupation and subjugation by Rome and those Rome put in power – for example, evil King Herod – here again is an example of the Light of God, breaking forth in the darkness, in the most imperceptible of ways, in the birth of a child.

In Matthew’s story, he brings Isaiah’s text to life, especially verse 6:
“A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:6)

Perhaps the Wise Men knew this text; perhaps – as Biblical Scholar Walter Brueggemann  once suggested (“Off By Nine Miles,” The Christian Century, December 19, 2001), that is why they went to Jerusalem seeking the child. But they were nine miles off, because they had the wrong text. Herod’s Biblical scholars provided them with the right text – Micah 5:2 – which eventually led them to the right place:

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)

If the Wise Men knew this text, perhaps that is why they brought such strange gifts for a two year old. After all, as the standard criticism goes, if they had been three wise women rather than wise men, they would have –
asked for directions and arrived on time
cleaned the stable
helped deliver the baby
brought a casserole
and given practical gifts, like diapers, rather than gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
As Mary might have said, “Next time, bring the gold, leave the frankincense and myrrh behind.”

Why would Matthew include such a story? Because by the time he wrote his Gospel, somewhere around the ‘80’s of the first century, there was a controversy about whether Christianity should remain primarily Jewish, or be for everybody, including Gentiles, also called pagans. Right here, says Matthew, at the beginning of the Gospel, is an example of how following Jesus is open to anybody and everybody. I might add that the controversy among Christians of who can follow Jesus has not subsided to this day. Thankfully, most of us are in the “anybody and everybody” camp.

Fortunately for us, thanks to St Peter and St. Paul, it was decided in favor of the inclusion of Gentiles, such that we are sitting here today – hearing with new understanding in a new year – Isaiah’s ancient invitation: “Rise and Shine.”  So what exactly does that mean for us today?

Parenthetically, can I just say it would be a lot easier to Rise and Shine if the sun would do the same, which it has not over the last few days. As I worked on this, occasionally looking out the window, I began to wonder if we were concentrating on the wrong side of the text. Perhaps instead of “Arise, shine,” we should be emphasizing “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” Welcome to Chicago in January! Like Isaiah said, it will get better. 84 days until Opening Day at Wrigley Field, which will be Easter! Looks like the Ricketts family are trying to cover all the bases this year. (Which might be appropriate, since it is rumored Jesus once told the Cubs, “Don’t do anything until I come back.”)

What does it mean for us to “Rise and Shine?” Well, firstly it means living your life, being the distinct individual God made you to be, as fully and authentically as you can. I came across a quote recently from Joseph Campbell, the scholar of world mythology, who said, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” That’s right, who you are. Not who somebody else is, or who people wants you to be; who you are. Of course, it is the task of a lifetime to find that out. Rise and shine, people!

Granted, “who we are” can feel pretty insignificant at times, against the backdrop of the world.  And that’s why the second way we can “rise and shine” in the world may be even more important, which is, to reflect the light of God which has shined upon us. Our light – the light of God’s people in every age, is a reflected light: like precious metals or stones flashing in the sun, we do not ourselves generate light; we gather and reflect the light that God has shined upon us, in Jesus Christ and also throughout the years of our lives.

St.ChapelleFor this reason I have always like the analogy of a window, especially a stained glass window. We’re not clear glass, we all have our unique set of personalities and gifts; we are all uniquely colored.  But have you seen stained glass at night? It’s blank. But in the morning, in the day, when the light shines through it, it is brilliant, like this stained glass is brilliant (St. Chapelle, Paris) Perhaps our daily prayer, not only in 2015, but every day, ought to be: “Light of the World, shine through me.”

Apart from who God made us to be, and apart from the light of God shining through us, sometimes the third and final way we can “rise and shine” in the darkness is to illuminate the landscape around us, to point to what we see, to what could be, even if we never see its fulfillment, any more than Isaiah did.

Did you know that scholars say the vision Isaiah saw, was never fully achieved in the history of Israel, not even modern day Israel? It was always an idealistic vision. So idealistic, it is even drawn upon for the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of St. John. In Revelation chapter 21, the new Jerusalem, like the one foreseen in Isaiah 60, “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:23) The Reformer John Calvin wrote that the vision described by Isaiah “cannot properly apply to the land of our pilgrimage, or to the earthly Jerusalem, but to the true homeland of believer, that heavenly city wherein ‘the Lord has ordained blessing and life forever more.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian religion, 2.11.1)

Thus sometimes it is our job to describe what we see, what could be, the vision God gave us, and make the world we live in more like it, as best we can. We do this through using the gifts God gave us: through creativity, through democratic processes such as voting, through personal and social activism, sometimes – as the leaders of the civil rights movement taught us, so powerfully portrayed in the upcoming movie, Selma – even through non-violent civil disobedience. In 2015, to “Rise and Shine” as God’s people in the world, we definitely have our work cut out for us. How do you intend the make the world a better place – more true to the vision God has given us – in 2015?

In 1942, the English poet W.H. Auden wrote a piece called “For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.” It’s been a few years since I shared it, but it’s so appropriate for this time of year, and for today in particular: the end of Christmas, the start of a New Year, going back to our jobs, to school, continuing our journey of life and faith. Here’s the way Auden’s Christmas Oratiorio ends:

“Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes-
Some have got broken – and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week –
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully –
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all . . . .

Chorus

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.”

                 (W. H. Auden, “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.”)

Rise and shine!

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