Prepare the Way: Find (pt 7-7)
The day after Christmas, sitting amid a pile of unwrapped presents and an abundance of pine needles — the clutter that comes in the wake of Christmas morning celebration — my usually effervescent youngest son looked oddly forlorn. “How can you be sad with all of this joy?” I asked him. He simply said, “Christmas is over, Daddy.” Ah, I remember being a small boy and thinking the same thing despite my parents’ and my church’s explaining that, in fact, no, Christmas has just begun. The Light that came into the world is a profound blessing to us all. Throughout Advent and Christmas — these last seven weeks here, we’ve been looking at what was coming into the world on Christmas Eve and also what that meant for us and our world forevermore. So my question this morning in what is a brand-new year and in the wake of the abundance of joy that came down from heaven, what did you find? Did it transform you? Did you let it? And if not, do we have to wait a whole other year to experience it again? But if you did, what will you do with it? Epiphany The Church tells us that Epiphany — which is what we are celebrating today, is the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. And it’s a time for us to begin looking at the profound gift of salvation that we’ve received and celebrate it! But what is this gift? Do you know? Can you articulate it? Does it show in the way you live your life? Do people say, “Man, I want what she has?” “I’d love to have what he has.” The cup overflows… What do you have? Oh, I’m full of questions this morning. Feels like our Gathering service… But this, our last day in our sermon series that began seven weeks ago, is called Prepare the Way. We think of preparations only in terms of our seeking and anticipating — Advent and leading up to Christmas. ### I once received an awesome gift that I will never, ever forget. It was an opportunity to sail on an America’s Cup sailboat. A 65-foot-long racing machine powered only by the wind and cutting-edge physics and technology. I unwrapped the gift. It was a ticket at the bottom of a box, carefully wrapped up. I was so excited! Now, was the gift the ticket, or the experience of stepping on to the legendary Stars & Stripes that Dennis Connor piloted to his fourth America’s Cup victory? You see the Light came down into the world to save us all from the darkness for all of eternally. The gift was found there in that manger under that bright star. The day after Jesus’s birth, would anyone be sad? That’s just silly, unless we’re King Herod and the other’s who didn’t want their power usurped. Being able to use this gift — much like my America’s Cup sailing experience — is the gift itself. I even got to pilot the ship and tend to the sheets. The prophet Isaiah tells us: “Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you ... Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Is. 60.1, 3 NRSV). When a light comes into a dark room, that room is instantly transformed. Immediately, the difference is noticeable, if not profound. No matter how much darkness is added to the room, the light overcomes it (Jn. 1.5). Likewise, for others seeking light in the darkness, they will see our light miles away. And they will come. This is the gift we’ve been given; our light has come, Isaiah tells us. In Isaiah’s time, he was addressing God’s children — the chosen of Israel — who had been scattered to other nations who conquered the Promised Land. They were in exile, and now they are back in what we call the resettlement phase. It was good times. It was restoration. And with God’s will being done before their eyes, they understand that they are redeemed. And the entire world’s eyes are upon their blessing. The entire world wants a piece of that light. Matthew Likewise, with God’s will unfolding before them in Matthew, the people are beginning to understand their redemption, too — that is, their rescue from their bondage. We know the Roman Empire was cruel in its taking over of Palestine and what was the civilized world. We know this vassal King Herod was only interested in maintaining what power he was given by Augustus Caesar. We note these magi come — the magi are not kings; they are gentile priests — not Jews — who have a reputation of destabilizing power with threatening predictions. They follow the light. And what do they find? First, they find a jealous, power-hungry king in Herod who wants to destroy Christ. But God won’t let that happen, as we know. They bring those very gifts that Isaiah names: Gold, frankincense and myrrh. They will see the light, they will experience the light, they will worship the light, and they will share the light. The true king, for all nations. This simply means the true king for all people. God directs them — non-Jews, gentiles — to protect the baby Jesus and not return back to Herod. The light will remain in the world forever. And the nations — the people — came to celebrate the light. Celebrating the light means using it. Using it means the magi going to tell the story to the nations. It means the shepherds sharing the light with their villages. All those who gathered and seen and heard spreading this Good News. We know the story. Our Light In the hangover and grog of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, the gift is now ready to be used by us. The anticipation of receiving a gift that was promised truly is much of the beauty; however, once that light is turned on, we are blessed to enjoy it, to feel its warmth and to share it with all who seek it. For the light is abundant. Now, the world tells us that all we possess is finite; but not this. One little light can be seen for miles away in a sea of darkness. It is the abundance of eternity in God’s very presence. However, it does no good if we keep this light all to ourselves — our so-called personal relationship with the light. “Nations will come to your light.” Those nations are all who seek to fill that God-shaped hole smack in the middle of their very beings. Holes that have them searching for something — anything — to fill that space: bigger houses, more money, addictions, power, control… The only thing that will ever fill that dark space is true light. And that light came down for all of us, all of us who search maybe their entire lives looking to fill that void. In a time of resolutions and promises, do this: Know the nations are coming to you for that abundance that you have been given. And then simply share it. Open your shutters and your doors and your heart and simply let that light bless them as you have been blessed. The gift of Christ in the world was given at Christmas, and it’s a gift that never stops being new and always renews and transforms. So let us always celebrate the light. Go, therefore Do you notice this star that leads us? What divine sign points each of us onto that path where God wants us to go? How do we embark on a new adventure in faith. Do we really believe that this is as good as it gets for our faith in our lives? Are we satisfied with that? How strong are we in Christ? And, quite honestly, what are we doing here? Do we believe that we come here to be transformed so that we can transform the world? I do. I do. And sometimes it’s hard. Where is your star, your light, your divine sign pointing you today? Do you know? Tell you what: You’ll never know if you’re not down on your knees, with your ear to Christ, free from distractions and actions that separate you from receiving God’s blessings. You want to make a resolution, then make it this: Stop and search for that Light to guide you. Listen for the sound of God’s calling for you. Right now, today, God is calling each of us here — in what we call the Church — to up our game. Jesus held nothing back for us. Neither did God when he gave it all up and came down as a lowly baby born in abject poverty to an unwed teenager in the slums of Bethlehem. Gave it all, right through the nails that pierced his hands on the cross. God created all of us and this church to do the same thing. Year of Missions In case you haven’t heard or read yet, this church this year is embarking on a plan to increase everything we do in our ministry of missions. That is an enormous umbrella under which so many wonderful things happen. Now, we know our salvation doesn’t come from our works, but simply our love for Christ. However, there is a clear and definite correlation between loving Christ and making our lives be the only response for the love and mercy and grace that God gives us. And that comes, my friends, from action. We need to grow in discipleship, church. I’m going to be frank with you: There are so many of us here who are willing to give of their monetary resources, but are unwilling to roll up their sleeves. If that’s you, take a step in faith and watch how the Lord blesses you and this church abundantly. There are those here who are willing to give of time, but aren’t trusting enough to give up their monetary support. God tells us test me on this. Malachi 3:10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” And there are those of us here who maybe feel like their prayers are weak, or they don’t pray, they don’t study the Bible, they don’t sing the hymns and maybe don’t believe. To you I say the same thing: Step in faith and belief. And we do that by doing. And only doing. Praying, giving, serving, loving, joining, supporting and working. Each month, we will emphasize either a new or an enhanced ministry. This is your chance to grow in discipleship. Get involved or get more involved. Support this church family and its initiatives. And pray — pray hard for the fortitude of the covenant we made more than four years ago between this church and God: That we would pray each day for this house to do God’s will. So far, it’s been nothing short of amazing. The growth in numbers and energy and support have been phenomenal. God honors what we do and give. God blesses it exponentially. We now have more opportunities to do and give, praise God. To share the Light that we have with the world. The Light given freely to each of us. All nations. All people. Starting right now. Now is the time to dig in and share the infinite and endless abundance of the gift of Light in and for Christ Jesus.