January 06, 2019
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Seeking Light in the Dark
The light of Epiphany
Here we are, already finished with 2018 and ready to start the new year of 2019. It’s hard to believe I completed my first year here at Rockville UMC of serving our Lord with you, yet I have truly enjoyed all of our ministries with you thoroughly. Most of all, I give thanks to the Lord that we could complete the year as we filled the sanctuary without empty pews during the Christmas season.
Of course, the number is not important. Our ministry must be all about love and care in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet I really can say your dedication was the reason why we could have lots of people joining our service and have a wonderful Christmas eve service. So I thank you all that you have done great works for the sake of God’s glory! And because of your faithfulness in God, I am really looking forward to this new year with a hope of growth of our worship and ministry.
Arise and Shine
We are now starting the season of Epiphany. The word epiphany means showing or shining forth. To Christians, Epiphany is the coming of the true Light, Jesus Christ, into the darkness of our world. Our lectionary Scripture leads us to start our epiphany and new year with the words of Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (v. 1).
“Arise” was the word my mom used to shout when I was a little kid. I mean this is what she told me when she came into my bedroom just to wake me up. I already confessed that I am not a morning person. It is always difficult for me to jump right out of bed when the alarm goes off. My natural desire is to turn off the sound, close my eyes, and take a little more sleep. But if I were to keep on sleeping, I would get nothing accomplished for the day.
Even though it is hard for me to get out of bed quickly, as soon as I get up I am glad I did. By the time I take a shower and put on some clothes, all my fatigue is gone, and I feel refreshed in mind and body and ready for the new day. And I am so proud that I did not decide to stay in bed for a long time.
The same is true in our experience with God. When it’s time to come to worship the Lord, we are sometimes unwilling to come to the church because we are tired with other things. But when we obey and come to worship the Lord, we may see ourselves rejoice in our worship and fellowship in our gatherings.
We have spiritually or physically lingered in the darkness too long. We should remember that Christ our Savior has risen from the dead that you and I might arise: arise from our graves, our beds, our illness, our comfort zones… And we should also use and exercise the power and authority of the Gospel so that we can help others come out of their darkness into the light of God’s salvation.
Our light of salvation has come through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Now, it’s up to us whether or not to accept the Light in our hearts, or to remain in our own darkness as the children of wrath. If we want to be spiritually alive, we must decide to live in the spiritual light of God. For this, God gives us two direct commands through Isaiah, “Arise and shine.”
Journey with the light of God
In Matthew’s Gospel, we saw an example of several people who saw a bright Star in the darkness; they arose from where they lived and started a new journey as they followed the Star. We know from this passage that they are the Wise Men.
Christian life is often compared to a journey: a journey that begins with our confession of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and ends when we at last meet God our eternal Father in heaven. The story of the Wise Men in Matthew’s Gospel represents our Christian journey in the sense that they traveled from the East (darkness) to find and celebrate the baby Jesus (light), who was born to save all humanity. This story is our own life story because they were the very first Gentiles to meet and praise Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite Christmas cards features a picture of the Wise Men travelling by camels toward the shining Star dominating the night sky. Yes, the bright Star is a good image to have in the Christmas story. It makes the baby Jesus’ birth even more special. Personally, I like this image of the Star as we are beginning this new year. It is the symbol of Epiphany, and it is also a sign of God’s guidance for our new journey in this world.
Yet, if we carefully read the text, we may recognize that the Star was not the only thing that had led the Wise Men to arrive at Jesus. They actually had no idea about how and where to find the baby Jesus. At the first stage, they didn’t discover Jesus at all, until they had done other very important things – until they had consulted the Holy Scriptures, until they came to King Herod, and Herod had asked the chief priests and teachers of the law where the Messiah was to be born (v. 4). What this passage tells us is that they not only relied on the Star but also strived hard to study the Hebrew Bible that prophesizes the birth of the Messiah.
The same thing that was true for the Wise Men is true for us as well. We may have a general idea of Jesus, but until we, like the Wise Men, consult the Bible, we really don’t understand who Jesus Christ is and how to worship him as we would like to.
Based on the Wise Men’s experience, I would like to point out two things that are required for our new journey in this new year. The first must be our willingness to track down the light of God, which I can say is God’s grace. And the second must be our willingness to hear the Word of God, for God’s Word teaches us how to serve and how to follow the Lord. Yes, we always need God’s Word for our Christian journey, as much as we need the light that is always present in our lives. The light is God’s gift, but loving the Scriptures is our attempt. God’s grace and our faith, those two things must be combined if we really want to meet our Savior Jesus.
Focus on God’s word
As we begin a promising new year, let us always remember this; good things and bad things are really happening all around us. Let us remember that the light of God is given to us as a gift, but we must strive hard to focus on God’s word. And let us also remember that God always supports us, saves us from evil, and leads us to the right way when we listen to his voice and look for the light in the midst of our challenging world.
As we come before the Lord on this very first Sunday of our new year, may God the Creator, Jesus the Savior, and the Holy Spirit lighten our way, speak to our hearts, and bring us to a life of joy, peace, and love. Thanks be to God. Amen.