Isaiah 60:1-6 |:| Perpetual Epiphanies
Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; January 4, 2015 @ 10:30a
Within the past four days people have been thinking back on the year’s end and planning for the year ahead. It’s the season of resolutions being made – plans being created – hopes of fulfilling them are on the horizon. In a quick internet search you can find out that the top ten resolutions made every year include: Losing weight, educating yourself, finding a better job, volunteering more, to quit smoking, saving money, getting fit, eating healthy, managing stress, traveling more, reducing debt, drinking less alcohol.
Some of these might even be resolutions you have made this year or in years past. It’s a natural process to think about how we want our lives to be different in the year to come. In looking back we reflect on all that 2014 held – the joys, the sorrow, new relationships, moves, lessons learned, opportunities missed – and the list goes on. Each one of us able to recall how this last year changed us.
Many of our resolutions are personal, focused on us as they are supposed to be, but the discussions, social media posts, and news articles about resolutions got me thinking, what would it look like to have resolutions not just for ourselves but for our community? For our country? What would those resolutions be? What would changes to our world in the year ahead look like? Our text from Isaiah brought to mind a few.
Within the church calendar we have journeyed through advent to christmas and have arrived at Epiphany. Today we hear the words of Isaiah proclaiming that from the Hebrew’s exilic place there will be the light that breaks all darkness. That the “poverty and shame of exile will be overcome when all the wealth of the world pours into zion and the city of exiles becomes a light to the nations.”
The words of Isaiah reach us today as we recall the journey of the magi to meet the one that is the true king of kings. Isaiah’s words were not addressing the Messiah we have come to know through the birth of Christ but the prophets words are no less meaningful to us in light of the Messiah’s birth we just celebrated a few short weeks ago.
So on this day when we are in a season of stepping into a new year and celebrating the epiphany of the Lord we are invited to hear “the prophet [Isaiah’s] syllables reverberate across the centuries [and]… challenge us to move out of the waiting of advent darkness and the mystery of Christmas dawning, and march into the brilliance of Epiphany’s bright day.”
Isaiah’s words are sound reminders of how we can use this season of embracing the new year and what it can mean for us as a church community. As disciples of the Christ Child we are reminded by the prophet to not sit on the good news we have been given. We are not meant to stay within the walls of our churches and maintain the status quo but rather we are to Arise! and Shine! with the truth of God’s transformative love and all embracing sovereignty.
It can be easy to settle into our routines of coming to church and sharing life together – which is something beautiful that we get to experience each week, but we are called to broaden our community. “Isaiah’s vision reminds us that the healing and solace we find in the community of faith are not the ultimate reason the church exists. God restores us to wholeness within the community of faith so that we can take our place in the procession and make room for others to join.”
In thinking of resolutions and how we wish to shape 2015 perhaps we can use spiritual disciples to engage the city of Denver and its surroundings and make room for others to join us. As you go forth from this place rejuvenated by the relationships you have within this community and the shared experience of worship allow it to have a rippling impact to your communities outside of these walls. Invite others to join you for church school, a GPS group, or worship. Allow your surrounding communities to impact and engage this community of faith, as well.
“Arise! Shine! This is not an invitation [from Isaiah. He is stating that] the light has not come merely to rescue a chosen few from darkness. The light has come so that others will be drawn out of the darkness into the circle of light.
“Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Grace elects not for privilege but for service. Those who are privileged to stand in the light have a responsibility not just to receive the light, but also to respond to it. “Arise! Shine!” cries Isaiah, “you have the light … now show it! Get into that darkness and start shining.”
Isaiah’s words remind us that we are not merely here for those present but for those who have not yet joined this community of believers. We are an eclectic group of people who have found truth in God’s transformative love and have learned and continue to learn how to be community together because of our differences – and we are to invite others to join us.
In a world that is filled with loud noises of darkness we can struggle to hear the stories and sounds of light and joy. Isaiah’s words remind us to raise our eyes and look to see all who are gathering. There are people who are bringing about light – joining positive energy to create a jubilation that cannot be denied.
In the year ahead find ways to notice the peace creators and justice proclaimers and allow them to drown out the darkness. In the year ahead be the peace creators and justice proclaimers – in new and creative ways. As we join together with our Monthly Mission Partners and the work of our neighboring churches, synagogues, and mosques we gather the multitudes to bring light to dark injustices and play the music of the trumpet child as peace reaches corners of the earth that have never heard its sweat sound.
Through the work of this church and its mission and community partners we are able to address the needs and concerns of our city. We can confront the issues of affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity and Family Promise, the needs of those seeking support and safety in this city as refugees and immigrants through the work ERIS, the concerns of hunger and food scarcity with the work of Metro CareRing and Jewish Family Services, to join forces with others around the city to address the cycle of poverty through the empowering work of DICP.
These are but a few of the ministry and community partners you all have been and continue to be committed to, and this list doesn’t exhaust the ways we can gather others in this work of reciprocity and liberation.
When the sights and sounds of darkness seem to cover every surface remember to lift up your eyes and look around for people are gathering to those who are beacons of light and proclaiming the Good News. May we be part of the light that proclaims the truth of the Lord.
Isaiah’s original audience had the epiphany that the Messiah would be radiant and cause rejoicing. As we are surrounded by the brilliance of a new year and recall the stories of advent and christmas we note the radiance of God’s love made manifest and have rejoiced at the meeting of heaven and earth with the birth of Christ.
“In this season of Epiphany, at the start of a new year, let us resolve to joyfully affirm that God is consistently made manifest throughout the world, in, through, and beyond individuals and communities of faith. Let us resolve to look for God more intentionally, and to name God more enthusiastically in and through the stories of our lives, and let us resolve to invite people into those stories with greater excitement about what that can mean.”
Every time we recall the stories of God’s universal sovereignty and love – the reason we are here this morning and believe there is gospel work to be done – we allow epiphanies to settle on our shoulders and the radiance of the Messiah draws forth from us a great rejoicing! In the busyness of life we can forget to live in God’s radiance and rejoice in it.
When we see people being fed, people being clothed, people being sheltered, people receiving medicine and healing, people risking things to dream let us allow ourselves to name God’s presence in these moments and experiences.
When our attention is caught by the ever remarkable sunrises and sets of the Colorado ski, by the laughter of a child, by the story of a grandparent or great aunt/uncle, by the snow marked mountains, by the stillness of dawn or dusk let us remember the creative nature of God and name it. The radiance of God is forever there and when we are captured by epiphany our rejoicing joins such radiance.
Isaiah didn’t have the Magi from Matthew’s story in mind when he wrote “they shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord,” but that is what we see the Magi bring and do. With their visit they witness the Christ Child and are the first gentiles to receive the message of the Messiah.
With the Magi’s epiphany it is revealed “that even in his infancy Jesus Christ is for all humanity, not only for the chosen few. He is for outsiders, he comes to draw people together: wise men from the East, Syrians from the north, Egyptians from the south, Romans from the west.
The truth that grasps us in the moment of epiphany, the moment when Christ is the very love of God incarnate, and that love cannot be confined to ethnic or national identity; it cannot be restricted by gender or claimed only by the powerful and privileged.”
Today we celebrate that with the life of Christ all are embraced by God’s salvation and love. From the margins of society we guide ourselves so that no one is left out and we transform the majority thought and experience. Over the past few months we have talked about Transforming 2015 here at Calvary and we have begun to do that through creatively planning for this year.
With us moving into the holds of 2015 we continue to live out ways to transform this year. Whether you are with this community of faith or at work or school or with your neighbors find ways to bring priceless gifts and proclaim the praises of God.
Your gifts won’t be frankincense or gold but they could be a listening ear, a random act of kindness, an open mind to hear an opposing view or belief, an in-kind donation to ministries like Bootstraps and Blessings, a creative way of helping a friend out when they express financial needs. In 2015 our gifts will most likely not be the same as the Magi but they will be equally as priceless and sing the praises of the Lord!
In the planning of your resolutions for 2015 and in this season of the year may the words of the prophet Isaiah guide you. May your resolutions include the spiritual disciplines of Arising and Shining as you invite other to join this community and be open to all and closed to none,
as you join with others to work for peace and live out justice gathering all to join the light giving work of God, you allow yourselves time to notice the radiance of God and create space to rejoice in it, and live into transforming 2015 with the priceless gifts of engaging your various communities. With these communal disciplines – communal resolutions – changes will be made in the city of Denver and the world.
The church year and calendar year are fresh and free for new practices and ways of living life together. We move forward with the lessons and wisdom gained from 2014 and with the anticipation of what this year can hold. As we collectively find spiritual disciplines as a church to live out our resolutions let us remind each other that our lives are perpetual epiphanies as we acknowledge God’s continual work in the world and join God there.
Let Walter Brueggemann’s words, in his poem “Epiphany”, be our guiding prayer for 2015 –
“On Epiphany Day, we are still the people walking. We are still people in the dark and the darkness looms large around us, beset as we are by fear, anxiety, brutality, violence, loss – a dozen alienations that we cannot manage. We are – we could be – people of your light. So we pray for the light of your glorious presence as we wait for your appearing; we pray for the light of your wondrous grace as we exhaust our coping capacity; we pray for your gift of newness that will override our weariness; we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust in your good rule. That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact your rule through the demands of this day. We submit our day to you and to your rule, with deep joy and high hope.”