Isaiah 60:1-3; Matthew 2:1-12
On Christmas Eve many of you were here for the 6:00 service. Needless to say our Christmas Eve services are a little different from the experiences you might find at a “normal” church. Certainly nothing wrong with Lessons and Carols but over the past few years we have ventured into different waters. Using the creativity of this congregation and the brilliance of our choir, we have dared to look at Christmas Eve through a different lens.
For the rest of my life when I think of Joseph I will imagine he is Roger Elliott. Many of us remember the Christmas Eve when we heard five different women give voice to Mary. Sarah Armstrong not only took one of the parts but helped craft each role. With her gone, I am not sure I will ever be able to repeat that experience.
This year, because of my love of the Book of Isaiah, we explored those beautiful poems that conclude the prophet’s message:
I will create a new heaven and a new earth.
The Spirit of the Lord will bring good news to the oppressed and the brokenhearted.
You shall give birth without pain.
Each poem is wonderfully reflected in the Christmas Story found in the Gospel of Luke. A new creation emerges as refugees from the north travel to Bethlehem and experience the most miraculous birth of all time. But Luke wasn’t the only gospel writer familiar with the poems of Isaiah. Matthew’s gospel centers on the joyous promise:
Arise! Your light has come.
What other response is possible than, “O my!”
Out of darkness comes hope, not as a sunburst, but as a single flicker. We dream of winning the lottery but Isaiah offers only a glimmer of tomorrow. Yet that light becomes the foundation for rediscovering life.
In Mathew’s story we are introduced to astrologers rather than shepherds. Folk protecting livestock have reason to fear the night. In contrast astrologers spend a lifetime looking into the darkness with the hopes of finding something new. These visionaries were not found in Jerusalem because Herod feared any light which might expose his madness. These Magi’s come from afar. They had seen a new light and they had no choice but to follow. Imagine Herod’s surprise when they brought their good news to the unsuspecting king.
There is no Herod in Luke’s version. This might be why we prefer his account. In Luke’s version we encounter mangers, angels, shepherds, and an old man in the Temple. Luke has no fear of Jerusalem. But the gospel of Matthew warns of the dangers lurking in the not so Holy City. Matthew’s gospel calls for a new kingdom which extends far beyond the darkness of any earthly tyrant. Matthew finds its genesis with a single light in the heavens. That light became a revelation to those in darkness, informing the past while opening hearts to new possibilities.
We don’t know who those astrologers were. But we do believe, driven by a solitary light, they dared to travel to an unknown land in order to witness what most could not see and only a few dared to imagine. And while we might still cling to the babe swaddling in Luke’s gospel, Christians all around the world prefer Matthew’s dangerous story of a light that dares to expose Herod.
Last night children throughout Central and South America filled their best shoe with grass and hid it under their bed. Feeding imaginary camels in Nicaragua is no more ludicrous than leaving snacks for reindeer in Nellysford. Before the children lay down to sleep they peaked into the darkness of the vast sky looking for a new star. Then they prayed that wise men would bring both gifts and a flicker of hope to their village.
In contrast most of us have already put away our Christmas decorations. We have grown weary of the holiday tunes we so longed for just a month ago. We even moved our Fourth Friday Film Festival up a week because it just didn’t seem right to show It’s a Wonderful Life after December 25th.
But epiphany is Christmas without Madison Avenue. Epiphany is Christmas without Santa and Rudolph. Epiphany is Christmas without all the bells and whistles, all the parties and lights, even all the joys and disappointments. Epiphany is about The Grinch. You remember the Grinch. He is the ugly Green Guy that unsuccessfully tries to steal Christmas. In the gospel of Matthew the Grinch is better known as Herod. The light of the world is born eight miles from his palace and the Grinch didn’t have a clue. Then the astrologers come looking for direction and the Grinch became determined to put out the light before others became aware of it. In an act of desperation the Grinch ordered every child under the age of two to be slaughtered. But the light survived because hope is more than wishful thinking. It is God appearing where only darkness exists.
I am told there are 353 shopping days left till Christmas. I understand you can still get outrageous bargains on wrapping paper and Christmas cards. You still have time to exchange those ugly sweaters and get what you really wanted. And it is never too early to pass along a hint or two so your loved one can get it right next year. But if Christmas only happens once a year what good is it tomorrow?
Herod works 365 days a year!
But so does the Light.
So let me suggest,
When our bodies betray us,
When the possible seems impossible,
When Herod has seemingly blocked our way home,
And miraculously we discover,
Light in our darkness,
Joy in our silence,
Even hope among the disheartened.
For when it seems all is lost,
When another war arises,
When another child is shot,
When another Herod rises from the ashes,
Someone will see a star,
Someone will arise,
Someone will rush to Bethlehem,
Someone will exclaim, “O my!”
And there is nothing Herod can do about it.
To God be the Glory. Amen.