Message for the second Sunday in the season of Epiphany,
Based on Isaiah 6):1-6 ‘Arise, shine your light has come’
Matthew 2:13-23 ‘The flight to Egypt’
Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we carry in our hearts, our minds, and our bodies, may all of it be acceptable in your sight as we reflect together on your holy Word for us this day. Amen.
In keeping with a new year and a new season in the life of the church, our scripture readings this morning offer us vivid images of hope for a new day, for new relationships, and for new leadership emerging.
In the Isaiah reading, in particular, the poetic imagery seems to almost vibrate with hopeful encouragement.
For those first listeners now returned to their beloved Jerusalem, up to their elbows in the hard work of re-entry and re-integration after 40 years of living in exile, such hopeful encouragement would surely come as good news!
Also called ‘The Song of Triumph for Zion’, our reading from Isaiah evocatively outlines a promise-filled future: a time when relationships between sons and daughters, even entire nations making pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy city, would be restored to one another and to God.
The reading tells us further that Jerusalem, herself, will also experience restoration, thanks to the abundant resources pilgrims and foreigners will bring.
This theme of restoration and reversal of fortune is repeated again in our responsive psalm as the hope for a new and different kind of leadership emerging where justice will flourish and peace abound into perpetuity.
And then, picking up from where we left off last week, we have our gospel reading from Matthew. Here, this morning, we discover that the Wise Men’s intuitions about King Herod’s ill intentions are proven right.
In between hearing the story of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt and then two years later, their safe return to their homeland, we come face to face with the darkly brooding heart of King Herod.
King Herod, a leader so obsessively threatened by the birth of God’s Glory in a stable at Bethlehem, that he commands all male children under the age of two be put to death. This has come to be known as The Feast of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents in the Catholic Church. Usually celebrated on the last Sunday in December, its a story not often heard in United Church services.
Whenever it might be heard, it is a deeply disturbing story. Heard in tandem with our reading from our other readings this morning, it seems particulary jarring juxtaposed as it is over and against those more hope-filled and encouraging images. That said, we would do well to remember this: Our stories from our scripture texts are always full of struggle!
In this particular vignette from Matthew’s gospel, it is hard to dress up the story of the baby born in the manger into a soppy and sentimental tale that is so often promoted in tandem with the festive season.
This morning, we are reminded that, in this particular set of readings from Matthew, that the Nativity story is a story about a refugee family on the run from the malevolence and hatred prevalent at the time.
Unpleasant as this might feel for those of us still basking in the positive energy of the festive season here and now, our scriptures this morning remind us that faithful living is not for the faint of heart. Nor should it be.
Faithful living in Jesus' day and in our own context is not for the faint of heart.
As well, the good news of God’s glory being born at Bethlehem is also a story about the gift of God’s immeasurable vulnerability set over and against the peril of our all too human need to exert or maintain power, whatever the costs.
The hard work of faithful living is to hold in tension the 'both/and' nature of God’s vision of Shalom.
The hard work of faithful living is to know that the world we hunger and long for, the world where God’s abundant grace and inclusive and radical love is lived out in every aspect of everyday life-where everyone’s basic needs are sufficiently met, though available to most of us sitting here is at the same time a vision of life that lies just beyond our reach of so many of our sisters and brothers, right here in this very community.
Still, I am reminded, like those first listeners to Isaiah some 2500 hundred years ago, we are called to be hopeful in our own ever changing context: hopeful for opportunities to be about restoration and renewal both with and beyond our walls.
At the same time, we are called into the stewarding of the gift of God’s light in the various new expressions of ministry being born in our midst this very day.
As the season of Epiphany continues to unfold, as we continue to wrestle with our own light and dark impulses; and as our faith is shaped and informed by our stories from Scripture, let us remember to listen for God’s call, and to embrace the discipline of letting our lights shine for all to see!
May it be so, amen.