The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio
Please pray with me.
Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright; westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect Light. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today marks the beginning of the season of Epiphany, and over the course of the next eight weeks we will be following Jesus as he moves out of the manger and into ministry. In this season we’re called not just to follow and to watch and to learn, but to be in touch with our own vocation, our own calling. Just as Christ came into the world as the light, the perfect light, and the darkness could not overcome it, so too, we’re called to carry our light into the world.
Looking at the Gospel lesson from Matthew that you just heard, Jesus has been born and the wise men from the east have seen the star rising and they’re filled with joy and purpose and they travel across the deserts to find the one born to be King of the Jews. They’re purposeful in their trip and understandably, they go to the seat of power in Judea, which was Jerusalem and they ask King Herod, where is the child who’s been born, the King of the Jews?
Herod, so-called the Great, did not receive that news with great joy. Nope, Herod was terrified because he realized that the Christ child threatened his power and his position. So he huddles with the chief priests and the scribes and says, what do the prophets tell us about this child? And they reply: the Prophet Micah says that the child will be born in Bethlehem. So Herod meets with the wise man and says you’ve got nine more miles to go, and by the way, when you find the child come back, tell me where he is, so I too can go and pay him homage. So the story proceeds, the wise men go to Bethlehem, following the star, and they find Jesus and Mary. They’re overwhelmed with joy and they kneel and they give homage to the King of the Jews.
Now, we don’t know much from scripture about the wise men. You can tell that the scripture’s a little scant on the details, but I think it’s purposeful because in Matthew’s Gospel, the wise men are representing all nations: that this great good news of the birth of the Christ child was not just intended for one people in one country, but for all people, all nations for all time. If you read on in Matthew’s Gospel what follows, after the wise men have heard in a dream that they should not go back to Herod, they take a road, a different road, home. Remember, these are wise men. They didn’t fall for that one!
An angel comes to Joseph in a dream and says, you need to flee because Herod is plotting to murder the Christ child. So Joseph and Mary and Jesus pack up and become refugees on the run, fleeing their own country due to certain violence and perhaps even death. My friends, refugees on the run, unfortunately, is not a new story. If you read on in Matthew’s Gospel, Herod finally figures out when the wise men don’t come back, that he’s been tricked and in a furious rage, he arranges for all the children who are two years and under in Bethlehem to be murdered.
Herod was known to be moody and cruel and, yes, at times, murderous. He murdered his own wife and three sons because he saw them as a threat to his position and power. Herods in the world are not new either, but here is the great, good news. The light came into the world and the darkness did not overcome it. It cannot overcome it. It will not ever overcome it. Not even Herod with all his power and position could extinguish the light of Christ—God’s greatest gift for all time, not just two thousand years ago, but for you and me, today and forever.
In this Epiphany season, as we look at the dichotomy of darkness and light, how do we find the light in our own lives and carry that into the darkness? I’m going to invite you to consider something that at first glance may seem counter intuitive, but I have found, as I have gotten older, that it is actually in the darkness that I can most clearly see the light.
Seventy percent of our sensory receptors are in our eyes and our vision of what’s around us can often overwhelm all of our other senses. So I began a practice some years ago of waking up early in the morning and being still in the darkness so that I can attempt, at least, to be in touch with what’s inside me: the deeper presence of the Light of Christ that abides in me and in each one of you. St. Paul wrote in Romans and Corinthians and Galatians that the Light of Christ abides in each one of us. Imagine that: God’s own spirit deep within us. How do we tap into that? How do we see that? How do we follow that? For me, it’s getting really still and quiet and going internally where I can sense that God is God and I’m really clear that I am not.
It is that light that will guide us on where we should go, what we are called to do, into what seems at times a darkened world. This image of light and darkness and finding the light in the dark came back to me thinking about a book I read some years ago by Barbara Brown Taylor called Learning to Walk in the Dark. In it she explores the dichotomy of lightness and dark and she references someone who taught me a great lesson and I share that with you this morning.
His name was Jacques Lusseyran. He was a French Resistance fighter in World War II. At the age of seven, Jacques was blinded in an accident and rather than following what was the cultural norm at the time, his parents kept him in public schools and mainstreamed him. His mother learned Braille right along with him and his father encouraged him to “always tell us when you discover something new.” Part of what he discovered was that even though he couldn’t see and it was darkness externally, there was a light within him and that light helped him to perceive the difference in trees and in barriers and all sorts of things around him.
He also learned that it would change depending on his internal condition. When he was angry or sad, the light dimmed; when he was joyful and abiding in the love that surpasses all understanding, he could clearly see the light again. What he learned was that if he wanted to stay in the presence of the light, he needed to love, that love was the key to the light. In 1944, Jacques and 2000 French resistance fighters were captured by the Germans and put in prison in Buchenwald and he learned this lesson even more acutely because he discovered that when he would succumb to the anger and the hate and the violence that was all around him, the light went out. He started running into things and tripping over furniture. But when he could pull himself back and go to that place inside where the light and the life and the love abide, he could navigate his environment again. He could make his way through the darkness in the world that surrounded him—the hate, the anger, the violence.
My friends, isn’t that true of you and me? That if we can abide in God’s presence in our life and live out that love that surpasses all understanding, we, too, can navigate our way in this world. Winston Churchill once said that “The future is unknowable, but the past should make us hopeful.”
The key, I believe, is truly the light that came into this world and the darkness could not overcome it. Jacques learned probably the greatest lesson, that no one could turn off the light within him without his consent.
Christ came. Christ continues to come and to show us the light. Our challenge is to abide in that light and let it lead us in love, out into a hurting and sometimes darkened world. Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright; westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect Light.