Jan 3rd, Rev. Morgan Schmidt preaching on “Epiphany Spark”
Good morning, friends. This sermon finds me in twenty twenty and all of you in twenty twenty one. So happy New Year. And also congratulations on leaving a very difficult year in the past. And I am sure that twenty, twenty one finds us free of all of our worries, healthy and well, and and that all of the troubles of twenty twenty have just vanished and been left behind. I know many of you join me in that wishful thinking, and, of course, most of us know that’s not the case, that we continue this journey into twenty, twenty one together.
And I’m so, so glad to be with you and worship today. I hope this New Year does find you and your family healthy and safe and well and where you are not healthy and safe and well. Please know that you are loved, you are treasured, you are held in community. So this morning we’re going to talk about Epiphany and we join churches around the world in celebrating this Christian holiday where we remember the story of the wise people visiting Jesus.
And of course, the story goes many different ways. We sing about three kings. We talk about three wise men. But really, we don’t know we don’t know that much about the history or or the true facts of this particular story. What we know from Matthew’s account is that wise people set out from the east, probably from the Fertile Crescent, from the areas of Iraq or Iran, and that these were wise people regarded as wise because they were very likely scientists, astronomers who studied the night sky.
And through their studies, they they their eyes landed on a star, a celestial event of some kind that struck them as out of the ordinary and caused them because of what they had heard about the prophecies of the Jewish messiah and caused them to travel all the way from their home, away from the familiar and everything they had known into the darkness, following this pinpoint of light in the sky all the way across the world, essentially for them to Jerusalem.
Once they got to Jerusalem, they they started to ask around where my this messiah be born. And they eventually encounter Herod, who history knows as Herod the Great, who was crowned king of the Jews by the Roman Empire. And so he gathers the religious scholars of the day and ask them, where’s the Messiah to be born? And of course, according to the prophet Isaiah, they say in Bethlehem and Judea, he passes this information along to the wise people.
We don’t know how many. We don’t know if they were men. There were some women, I don’t know, but they continue on from there. And Herod says, hey, when you found this baby, come back and tell me all about it so that I can go worship him, too. So they go and they find Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in their home and they bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And they worship Jesus.
They acknowledge him as the son of God, as the Messiah, as love embodied in the world. And they’re the only response that makes sense to them is to worship him. And then one of them is born in a dream not to go back to Jerusalem, not to go back to Herod, but to return home by another route. And that sense of danger only heightens when Joseph also has a dream following their departure, telling him that he needs to take his family to Egypt to flee danger and go as refugees to a foreign country and seek safety there.
And the little known story doesn’t go well with the Christian Christmas narrative you can’t sing songs about. It is that Herod is so angry, Herod’s ego, so threatened by someone else, possibly having this title King of the Jews on the side that he has every young child in Bethlehem, every every boy of about two years of age killed just in case Jesus was among them. And so this story is this roller coaster of mystery and hope and light in the midst of darkness and deep, deep sadness and deep brokenness.
So I’m not sure where this story resonates for you. Maybe the idea of leaving the familiar behind and going off into the unknown is the part of the story that you deeply resonate with as we come into the New Year. Maybe you resonate with it, just trying to keep your eyes on a pinpoint of light in the midst of darkness. Maybe you resonate with the mystery of prophecy or the amazement of seeing a Christmas star like some of us even got to see this year.
Maybe you resonate with God’s faithfulness and continuing to show up for God’s people and everybody loved. Maybe you resonate with just wanting to bring whatever gifts you have and worship. Maybe you resonate with the site of political injustice and your heart breaks at the loss that accompanies this mysterious and miraculous story. Or maybe you resonate with the hope of recognizing God for who God is, and that is that God is with us, that God is love embodied in our midst.
There are so many epiphanies in this story and an epiphany is another word for an appearance or when something is brought to light or maybe something is sparked and it’s an epiphany, like an aha moment. It’s a spark that resonates somewhere deep with. And so it’s fitting that epiphany happens around the time of the new year, I think, because all of us are looking for what’s that spark going to be for the New Year, it invites us to reflect on what appeared before what appeared in Twenty Twenty.
What was brought to light, and it invites us to look forward to what might appear in twenty twenty one, what might appear in a new year, what might be brought to light and what might be sparked for us, where where might we find a spark in this new year? I really like the accompanying passage that goes with this story. Many years from the lectionary is from Isaiah 60, where he says. A rise and 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 rise upon you and God’s glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light and kings or wise people to the brightness of your. Where are you longing for light? What are you hoping to have sparked within you, where you perhaps already finding that spark? I recently had the chance to officiate for an elopement ceremony, I’ve never gotten to do that before. This is where an old friend from Seattle and his new wife, but they wanted to snowshoe out to the Meisner warming hut. And so we snowshoe now.
This was like two Sundays ago when it was raining. It was just raining and raining and raining and raining, not a snowflake in sight. And so we started about mid-afternoon knowing that it’s it’s a pretty quick walk and made our way to the warming shelter. It took a little bit of extra time because the groom wanted to set up some cameras at different angles so they could include family near and far and in the ceremony and in the festivities. And so as we were finally getting to the ceremony, we were losing the light.
It was starting to get dark and it was beautiful. It was a gorgeous moment of sharing in the love between these two people and getting to just be a part of a sacred moment. As we made our way back to the warming shelter to put away the equipment and get back to our vehicles. You know, they said, we know you’ve got you’ve got something else going on tonight, you should just go and we’ll we’ll follow behind with all this stuff.
And I said, are you sure? You know, I got a little bit later than we expected and I did have something else to get to, but I felt terrible leaving this couple with this equipment in the warming shelter. They said, no, no, no, go. We’ve got it. We’ve got it. And so I did actually. And it’s still raining. And actually, we’ve lost the light entirely at this point. It’s dark.
And all I have because I thought it was going to be a shorter adventure. I have the light from my cell phone camera. I have found up, rained on glasses, and I have some semblance of an idea of which way to go and could see that many others had been there before me. And then many of you will know the the grace of those blue triangle markers on the trees with the little yellow snow. Sure person. And it’s reflective in the dark.
And so I knew that if I followed this path and if I followed the reflection of that light, if I followed just the very bit of light from my cell phone flashlight, I was going to be OK. If something happens to your brain, I think being in the woods at night alone, it can mess with you a little bit. You can imagine things that might be there that probably aren’t there. But I can tell you, I’ve never been so fast on snowshoes as I was that night because I just kept sweeping my flashlight back and forth and on the trail ahead of me, making sure I didn’t trip and trying to look for what might be around me in the darkness.
Of course, at one point I had to even take off my glasses. They were so fogged up and so covered in raindrops that I could actually see better in the blur without them than I could with them on, which was again, just a vulnerable feeling. But every step of the way I knew I could look up for that reflects a reflection of light coming off of those little blue triangles with diamonds and know that I was on my way. And so the grace of light in the midst of darkness is so fresh in my mind.
Friends were always holding that tension between light and dark, light and dark, that our lives move through this rhythm from light to dark to light again, from dark to light, dark again. It’s the cyclical part of being human in the world. And we know that we have had our fair share of darkness and we have had some light. And so friends, the key to finding her spark to continuing forward, to remembering that we are so loved by God, the key is to keep moving through that cycle and not to get stuck.
It’s easy to get stuck in the light and to to deny that there is any darkness when we have it good and when when we don’t want to deal with what darkness might be around the corner. It can be so easy just to stay there and say everything’s fine, it’s all good. Everything happens for a reason. It’s going to be OK no matter what. And it’s just not always. Light and dark have to. And we don’t want to dwell in darkness forever either, we don’t want to become someone who gets stuck in the dark saying over and over how dark it is, how dark it will always be, reminding everyone of the darkness all the time.
We want to find ourselves, people who can move through these places from light to dark to light to dark to light to dark hiding in the midst of each moment. What is sparking for us? What is reminding us that we are beloved children of God? What is there to remind us that we are God’s beloved and so friends, maybe in this New Year you need to take some of that darkness and I invite you really to write it down on a piece of paper and find some fire somewhere and remind yourself that the darkness is not the end of your story, that the darkness is not what you were made for.
It might be part of what makes you, but that the darkness doesn’t get to linger forever and that there is healing possible from those dark seasons. And so I invite you to write a word or a phrase that they remind you of the darkness you’re tempted to get stuck in and light it on fire. And friends, another thing that happens in the midst of the epiphany season, some churches have a tradition of taking a piece of chalk and writing a blessing, a word of blessing about their doorframe of their home.
It’s a way of blessing their home, which if ever there was a time to maybe bless our homes, now is a great time to remind ourselves of the blessing of having our home, to remind ourselves of the blessing of the life that happens within our homes, to remind ourselves that blessing is possible even when we feel stuck at home. And so I invite you to write, to write literally maybe across the top of your door frame. This is obviously a chair, but as an example of what is the blessing, the word of blessing, that you want it to be the theme or the word that reminds you of the light and the spark in twenty, twenty one.
And so mine always I know that I’m reading is you’re not going to. Well, it says left, but maybe that’s something that you, you and your family can do this week is to decide what does that what does that word that’s going to spark a reminder of the light within you marking moments matters. It’s how we make meaning of our experience in the world. And there’s nothing so universal in our experience as light and dark and moving from light to dark.
And back again over and over and over. But this epiphany, I invite you to consider the spark. What is the light? What is the light that is reminding you over and over that you are loved by God? What is the light that will guide you in the darkness? What is the light that you hold for others? And so France may you know that you are the light, that God is the light, that Jesus as the embodiment of God’s love in the world, is a spark that remains with us always, whether it’s twenty twenty or twenty twenty one.
You know, the blessing of the light and the darkness.