Year B — The Epiphany of the Lord

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
The old farm house where I grew up had an old dirt basement underneath the kitchen, more like what people in other parts of the country refer to as a root cellar. You had to go outside to get to it, going through an entrance that always reminded me of the storm shelter in THE WIZARD OF OZ.
For much of the year we used it to store potatoes and yams and apples. They were in old wooden crates on a low table against the back wall, covered with burlap sacks.
Two or three times a week, Mama would send me to the basement to get something for her. I knew that old basement so well that I never turned on the light; I just walked straight into the darkness to the appropriate box and scooped up whatever it was that Mama wanted.
One year I got a flashlight for Christmas. For a few days I did nothing but fiddle with that flashlight. I did Morse Code with Cousin Bob next door, I tried to scare my little sister with the flashlight in the mouth trick, I tired reflecting light off household mirrors into people’s eyes to annoy them; the usual 9 year old boy stuff.
Well, when my mother sent me to the basement for potatoes I of course took my flashlight. I stepped into the basement and turned it on . . . . and immediately wished I hadn’t. In the sudden glare of my flashlight, I saw several rats and bugs and a snake or two scurry back into their hiding places.
I shuddered to think of all the times I had been down there in the dark and all those icky things were all around me and because it was dark I didn’t see them.
In this case the shining of the light was not very comforting to me, instead is scared me greatly.
During Epiphany we celebrate the coming of the light of Christ into the world.
We celebrate it as a good thing, which it is. We celebrate it as a joyous thing, which it is. We celebrate it as a life giving thing, which it is.
But all too often, we celebrate it as an easy thing, a gentle thing, a non-threatening thing; which it most decidedly is not.
The coming of the light of Christ into the world is a hard, good thing.
The coming of the light of Christ into the world is a severe mercy.
The coming of the light of Christ into the world brings life, but it also brings death.
Today’s Gospel lesson tells the familiar story of the Magi, the Wisemen, following the star to the manger, where they find the true light, which is Christ our Lord.
Most of the text tells the story of their encounter with King Herod. In the midst of this seemingly pleasant tale, there is only one hint of darkness, when the travelers are “warned in a dream” (vs.12) not to return and report to King Herod.
This hint of darkness reminds us of the rest of the story; the fact that Herod was a bad king and a bad man. He was such a bad man that he killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem in hopes of killing the prophesied real king of the Jews.
This is usually referred to as the Slaughter of the Innocents and we don’t talk much about it much, do we? It’s a real downer, an ugly, dark story. Too dark and too ugly to bring up during the joyous and happy season of Christmas.
Most of us are like I was as a little boy going down into the basement in the dark.
We are perfectly happy as along as we are blissfully unaware of the dangers lurking there.
When the light of Christ shines unblinkingly into the dark places of our lives, most of us are not very happy about what we see. None of us likes to have sins and shortcomings pointed out; not by God or anyone else.
But that is exactly what the light of Christ does; it shines upon our lives and shows us who we really are. It examines us in the unblinking light of God’s holiness and we all blink our eyes and shudder to see the vermin of our inner selves revealed.
I have a friend who has 5 of the 7 early warning signs of melanoma. In order to keep things in check, he sees a doctor every six months for a thorough check-up.
He stands completely naked under an extremely bright light while the doctor looks over every inch of his body. It is a harsh light, a light that chows his every blemish and imperfection.
It is also a life giving light, for it reveals what needs to tended to and healed.
That is what the light of Christ is like. It is both hard and soft. It deals in both life and death. It shows both the presence of evil and the hope and way of salvation.
It was because of the darkness that Christ came into the world. There was darkness then; there is darkness now. War, injustice, cruelty, illness, uncertainty and the loss of hope are still rampant in the world.
And the light of Christ shines on, in us and through us. We are now the light of Christ in the world.
We are called to shine the light of God’s love into the world’s dark places.
We are called to point out the ugliness of evil, and we are called to point to the eternal loveliness of Christ.
We are called to fill the world with the penetrating and healing light of Christ.

3 thoughts on “Year B — The Epiphany of the Lord

  1. This sparked my memory of another way of thinking about that light, also a dermatological example 🙂 When my youngest was diagnosed with skin cancer a few years ago, the treatment prescribed was light therapy. 5 minutes, 3x a week in a closet full of UV light. I was completely losing it, and found myself really angry that the only thing they could offer to this scary problem was light. Which didn't seem nearly strong enough. Yes, this pastor was certain that light wasn't strong enough to meet the darkness in our lives. The happy ending is that after about a month, his skin began to clear, and he has been able to be off the treatment for almost a year now.

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