Who has packed away Christmas all the Christmas decorations? Who keeps their tree and decorations up till Epiphany, which was yesterday? Despite this meme, both dates are human constructs.
Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas Day and the Wise Men didn’t show up that night OR 12 days later. I know, it’s shocking and mind blowing to some of you! But does the actual date matter? I don’t really think so. What matters is what are we birthing? And how are we sharing the light?
However, dates do provide a means of ritual and remembrance. A shape to the season and year. And so today, we celebrate Epiphany, God’s revelation to the Gentiles, exemplified in the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus.
“Epiphany” means “revelation.” During the season of Epiphany, Christians contemplate the figure of Jesus as a revelation of God’s hopes for the world. It is a time of growing insight into the way we believe God was working for our good through Jesus’ ministry of preaching, healing, justice, and reconciliation. Who he is for us and our salvation “dawns on us” gradually during this season of light. https://sicutlocutusest.com/
Our first reading is from Isaiah’s invitation to praise, in chapter 60. The prophecies of Isaiah cover three critical periods of Jewish history. In the first part, Isaiah spoke his warnings and promises while Judah and Jerusalem still stood. A second Isaiah, preached to the Exiles in Babylon. Third Isaiah, in Chapters 56-59, in rebuilding has warnings and challenges, then, in chapter 60, comes a promise of renewed light, wholeness and wealth. Let’s listen, as this Isaiah sings: (intro to scripture written by Rev. Stew Clarke and Catherine MacDonald)
60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 60:2 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. 60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 60:6 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.
Arise, shine! You shall see and be radiant! How easy it is to preach on this passage as light is returning in the northern hemisphere. When I left the church on Tuesday around 4:45, I noticed that it was lighter than it was just a few weeks ago. And deep in my soul, I felt something being unbound… an unconscious knowing that the earth is turning towards spring once again.
For some of us, this time of the year can be challenging… weather wise, it was certainly challenging this past week! Some of us get the seasonal ‘blues. Perhaps they were kept at bay by the bright lights of Christmas decorations. Perhaps not, as for some, Christmas is a challenging time. But light IS returning!
Several years ago, I sang the following in a Community Choir I belonged to:
Light is returning even though this is the darkest hour
No one can hold back the dawn
Let’s keep it burning let’s keep the flame of the hope alive
Make safe our journey through the storm.
One planet is turning circle on her path around the sun
Earth mother is calling her children home.
Written by Charlie Murphy 1984
But perhaps home, by another way.
In the Gospel reading, we have the story of wise ones from the East, students of mathematics and of the stars. It is not the historical accuracy that counts so much as the meaning for us: that Jesus is honoured by these wise and rich Gentiles, that the connection with Bethlehem and the family of David is clear, that it is given a real historical setting, and that the gifts suggest royalty, priesthood, and sacrifice: a summary of believe in Christ. Let us listen closely for the Good News for us in Matthew 2:1-12: (intro written by Revs. Stew Clarke and Catherine MacDonald)
2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2:2 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.” 2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 2:5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 2:6 ‘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.'” 2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 2:8 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.” 2:9 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. 2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 2:11 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. 2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Home, by another way… Daring to take a different path.
It was two years ago that we began our ministry together. This next little bit is part of what I said that day:
“What gifts do we have to offer? Not many of us have gold, frankincense and myrrh… but each of us has a gift that is our alone… the gift of music… of teaching… of speaking… of compassion… of listening… of hospitality… Even our troubles can be a gift… They are an opportunity to do something different…An opportunity to think in a new way… a chance to take stock of what we have. We do not know each other yet… but I am sure that you are rich in gifts and talents and together we will have opportunities to live the message of God’s call. (Catherine MacDonald January 3, 2016)
We have gotten to know each other… we have had our ups and downs… we have been joyful and frustrated, we laughed and cried. In my covenanting service I brought my camera, promising to use it to demonstrate where I saw God’s light in this place.
Light, God’s light, shines on everything. Sometimes the light reveals something that we don’t want to see. Sometimes the light reveals astonishing beauty that has been hidden.
Sometimes the light reveals a new way to be.
We have travelled some new roads… and we will continue to do so in the next year. There will be a new edition of ‘Transition Times’ out next week, highlighting the plans for the coming year. One of the things that I will be doing once a month is reflecting on Fishing Tips: How Curiosity Transformed a Community of Faith. It’s written by the Rev. Dr. John Pentland, a United Church minister in Calgary.
You have heard some of us talking about a weekend event that Martha, Reeta, Donna and Christine attended with him last May. The executive is reading it in our grounding gatherings, those are the non-business meetings that take place every month. And they and the Transition Team, along with the Worship Committee agreed that it would be a good idea for me to reflect on a particular chapter each month, in order for the ideas to permeate the congregation.
While numbers don’t tell the complete story, they do tell a story.
Fishing Tips relays the 10 year story of how Hillhurst United transformed itself. We discussed the intro and the first chapter last time. His first one is: Let Leaders Lead!
This is the belief that when you call a minister and/or elect a governing body, they actually lead the rest of the congregation. Believe it or not, there are actually very few things for which a congregational meeting has to be called. Is this something that Riverview is good at? Do you let your leaders lead? Or do you want input into every decision.
Rev. Pentland writes, “Often churches don’t really want a leader, they want a manager or an administrator. They want someone to maintain the status quo and fulfill the functions deemed appropriate for a minister, preaching, pastoral care etc. I am not suggesting that these are not crucial, I am suggesting that this is not the same as leadership.” (Fishing Tips P34)
He also speaks about other leaders in the church… are they the right person for the role, do they bring both skills and humility to the role. He defines this has having the right people in the right seats on the bus. He often advocates leaving a position empty rather than have the wrong person in it.
A community of faith might recognize the need for change, but at the same time actively resist it. I wonder if some of you can relate to that? Strong leadership doesn’t mean that everyone is happy, but it does mean casting the vision draws people to trust in greater possibilities. P43
Questions that John leaves for us on leadership:
- Are you asking your minister to lead? How have you expressed that?
- Is your congregation willing to follow someone who leads change?
- Is everyone in the right seats on the bus.
- Do you ‘play’ much together?
I invite you to ponder those questions over coffee time and in conversation at meetings and informal connecting times.
It is home by another road… light by another way… But we are still following that star… following Jesus. In a few minutes you are going to have an opportunity to choose a star word once again. A word to carry with you through the coming year. A word that might confuse, confound, excite or soothe you. I invite you to see your word as a gift… if you really don’t like the word you get, after you sit with it for a week, you can exchange it.
I am going to close with a paraphrase by Neil Gaiman: I hope that in this year to come, we make mistakes. because if we are making mistakes, then we are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing ourselves, changing ourselves, changing our world. We are doing things we’ve never done before, and more importantly, we’re doing something.
We continue to follow the star… leading on home.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity. Amen.
Riverview and Nine Mile River United Churches, January 7, 2018
Isaiah 60: 1-6 & Matthew 2: 1-12