Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
January 6, 2019
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.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Back in November of 2005, the Associated Press reported on the tiny Austrian town of Rattenburg. In the matter of a couple decades, the town had lost 20 percent of its population and at the time had only 440 residents. The reason was darkness. Rattenburg is nestled behind Rat Mountain, a 3,000 foot peak that blocks out the sun from November through February. At the time, an Austrian glass company, headquartered in Rattenburg, had developed what they thought to be a solution. They planned to install 30 heliostat mirrors on the mountainside, to grab light from reflectors on the sunny side of the range and direct it back into dark Rattenburg. The light would not illuminate the entire village but would provide sunlight in enough spots that people could congregate in the brightness to catch a break from the darkness. The cost of the project was to be $2.4 billion with the European Union set to cover half the bill. The glass company was committed to pay the other half as a test project for brightening up some 60 other villages. A company spokesperson said, “I am sure we will soon help other villages see the light.” It was hoped that the mirrors would bring enough light to draw more tourists but also to convince younger people to live in Rattenburg year round.
This week I searched the internet to see how the Rattenburg project was going. I was hoping for a happy ending. But I was disappointed. While there was no large follow up article or current investigative report, apparently the reflective mirrors have not been installed. The glass company has not followed through on their financial commitment. Sadly, the leaders of Rattenburg have come to believe that the plan will never come to be and that the darkness must simply be accepted. I read some recent quotes from Rattenburg tourism officials that actually promoted the dark winter environment as an attraction.
Today we observe the Sunday after Epiphany. Epiphany is the day in which we remember and reflect upon the visit of the three magi to the Christ Child in the manger in Bethlehem. Epiphany is the date in which the Christmas story moves from an innocent tale about a cute little baby being born in a magical setting into the meaning of that birth as a revelation of God that will challenge the powers and the darkness of the world.
Epiphany is a Greek word meaning “manifestation,” or something that is suddenly made clear or obvious to the mind or eye. An epiphany comes during those “a-ha” moment when the light bulb above our heads suddenly clicks on. I receive Epiphanies occasionally when leading discussion at Mayflower Cafe. I receive Epiphanies when my spouse points out what was wrong about the clothes I picked out to wear to worship on Sunday. Epiphanies add meaning to our faith. Without epiphanies, the Bible is just another storybook and Christmas is just the birth of another baby. But epiphanies bring to light the significance of what has happened and they reveal the truth about what it means.
Indeed, light is the focus of Epiphany. The star which the magi followed to Bethlehem is often used as the symbol of the season. The passage from the prophet Isaiah speaks of the light, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen up on you…Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” This passage was written to a people who lived in a place not unlike the darkness of Rattenburg, Austria. The people of God were in exile, away from their homes, away from their traditions, away from their hopes. All they could see was darkness and ruin and despair. It was like being stuck in this bleak January winter time that sometimes seems to never end. But God promised something different. God was rising up in glory to bring light to those who lived in darkness. God was providing illumination for leaders who needed light to rule with mercy and justice. God was providing the brightness of hope to a world that could not save itself from war and greed and selfishness. The people of Isaiah’s time needed to be able to see the light before they could be the light. The words remind us of what God’s light needs to be for us today, a source of hope and power when we are without purpose and strength.
The prophet’s words tell us something else about the light of God. When light comes into our world and into our lives, the light isn’t always the reassuring, peaceful thing we wish for. It disturbs and challenges, and moves us. The light of the star was the epiphany that guided the magi and directed them to the baby Jesus. Then they saw something in Mary’s baby that others in the world did not see. This revelation was not so good to the Herod’s of the world. When light comes into the darkness, it is not good for the darkness. Light discovers what is hidden in the shadows. Light disturbs the comfort of the status quo. Light threatens those whose power is based upon anything but peace and goodwill. Light changes things, shakes things up, and proclaims a new way through lasting truth.
In the T.S. Eliot classic poem, The Journey of the Magi, the wise men describe their difficult journey to Bethlehem. At the end of the poem the writer says, “We return to our places, these Kingdoms. But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.” That is the thing about epiphanies- God’s light bursting forth into our world changes the way we see and what we see.
Late on New Year’s Day I was trying to tidy up the house a bit, running the vacuum cleaner over the floors. It must have been much later in the day than I normally vacuum, or New Year’s Day was much cloudier than normal, because I could not help but notice the light on the front of the vacuum cleaner, shining on the floor. I never recall noticing the effect of the light before but on that day it was most evident. In that light I saw every bit of dust and dog hair and Christmas tree needles. I remember thinking that perhaps I should always vacuum at night, with the lights out!
Epiphany Sunday is the same reminder for us a people of faith. The gift of God is present with us. The light of God is shining upon us. That light shine upon our existence and change our perspective and our capability. Arise and shine. Today is the day to ask ourselves, “Where is the glory of the Lord in our world and in our lives?” Today is the day to ask, “How does that light change our view of our lives and our world?” Today is the day to ask, “What does it mean to shine?”