Sermon,  Sermons

First Light to a New Day


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The word, Epiphany, means “to manifest,” “illumination,” or “a revelation.” For the Christian church, it represents the revelation of God to unlikely people in unlikely places. The term sounds very High-Church, or perhaps just out of reach, but it is precisely it’s accessibility to everyone that marks the substance and meaning of Epiphany for us.

The interesting thing, and what makes it so full – living even – is to see how other cultures celebrate and mark this 12th day of Christmas, the Feast of Epiphany.

Nollaig na mBan (pronounced, Null-ug na Mon), Women’s Christmas, also known as, Old Christmas, or Little Christmas, is celebrated by the Irish and the Amish. For Nollaig na mBan, all women took the day off from house work and traditional rolls were reversed. But, of course, versus Men’s Christmas, otherwise known as Christmas Day, when everyone enjoyed the finest foods and treats, on Nollaig na mBan, they feasted on the leftovers of Christmastime.

According to one article,

“It is considered unlucky in Ireland to take down the Christmas tree and decorations before the twelfth day of Christmas, a custom which is still recognised and practised by many. While the rest of the decorations were taken down and put away for another year, the holly was traditionally retained for Shrove Tuesday, when it would be used in the fire for cooking the pancakes on that day…

There were a number of other customs around Little Christmas. On this day in some parts of the country, mothers rubbed the tail of a herring across the eyes of their children to give immunity against disease for the rest of the year.”

“Women’s Christmas was also associated with the Irish death divination customs that were practised at Halloween. One tradition is that a ‘cake’ of mud or clay was made and candles named for the family members in the house was placed into it. The order in which the candles burned out indicated the order in which the owners of those candles would die. The ritual was accompanied by prayer and was taken very seriously, with no light-heartedness allowed.”

So, making everyone else do the house work is definitely a practice I am happy to keep. Standing vigil over my candle on a mud cake to see if I’ll be the first to die? Yeah, not the kind of epiphany I want! And I probably won’t be smearing herring tail over my kids’ eyes…

We can learn from other cultures and grow to know God more. We can also recognize our own fears in the way others’ express them in their rituals and practices. Epiphany is meant to illuminate the life of Christ to us. And it is meant to illuminate Christ’s love through us.

And light is not inert. That is, when a light shines, it cannot help but shine. Well, unless you hide under a bushel. No!

Just so, Epiphany calls us, it lures us into the light. Epiphany is the light of the Good News that Jesus lives. And we have the life of Jesus, the Light begging us to Live out the light we experience, the life of Christ living through us. This light – always points to justice.

That is, to live out the light we experience, we live into the work of Christ to make all things right. Making all things right is all about relationships: our relationship with God, and our relationship to God’s creation – each other, and everything else (creatures, the earth, the sky, the sea . . . and everything in it).

“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?”

– Dorothy Day

This is our greatest challenge! How do I bring about a revolution of my heart?

One of the ways we will facilitate this is by focusing on one of our denomination’s top three goals: to live out the conviction that racism is incompatible with Christian teaching. I will be preaching a series on the subject through mid-February, the start of the Lenten season.

I will be drawing primarily from these 2 books. If you’d like to read either of them while we learn together these next few weeks, the titles will be online, or, feel free to contact me.

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, by, Drew G. I. Hart

The Color of Compromise: The Truth About American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by, Jemar Tisby

When light shines on an object the subject becomes easier to see, is more nuanced, increasingly faceted. It might even surprise us. Wow, I had no idea that . . . there was so much dirt in this corner . . . probably shouldn’t have changed the light bulb.

When the light of Christ shines on creation, it becomes easier to see, is more nuanced, increasingly faceted. Wow, I never thought about worshiping God in that way! With that kind of music! Considered what salvation means in that context!

In Peace Child – Don Richardson, a missionary to the Sawi people in New Guinea, learned that they understood Judas to be the hero of the Passion narrative because, in the Sawi culture, as cannibals they valued deception, greasing victims with friendship before killing them for food. But when they explained their practice of offering a Peace Child to another tribe, one of their own babies to be raised as a child of the other’s own, Richardson shared that God became a baby as a Peace Child for us, to be raised as our own, making peace between us and God. An epiphany!

Latin American culture makes Epiphany the primary celebration. The 12 days are observed – versus our December 24-25 frenzy of meals and gift giving – the exchanges are drawn out, and on this 12th day culminating in the presentation of the best gifts. I love this way of being. I embrace it whole-heartedly. It may be my excuse for taking so long to bring in our decorations…. But I really love the pace of it.

Paul reminds us that we are called to One baptism… “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4)

7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift… 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Eph4)

If we want uniformity in our theology and doctrine, we will never grow – and we will certainly never even be capable of expanding our sight of God, increasing our understanding of who God IS, grow into the full stature of Christ …

By “full stature in Christ” the Scriptures mean: equipped “saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

Because if we say we believe in a Creator God; a Redeemer Christ through whom all things were made, “and without him not one thing came into being;” and a life-sustaining Spirit who makes us one with these Three, a Trinity God… (Jn1.3)

if we truly believe these things, we will look for it everywhere! – all things that came into being did so by the power of God through Jesus Christ given life by the Spirit – We can see and know God if we truly see, actually notice, intentionally find God in everything.

Why did Jesus come? What is the Good News Jesus accomplished by entering our time-space?

“so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph2)

This One who “accomplishes all things” (Eph1:11) according the “plan for the fullness of time to gather up all things to him,” (1:10) – making all things right again; and chose us even before the foundations of this world were set – to be holy and blameless in love (1:4).

Every one of us are chosen, we were intentionally brought into being, created to be – holy and blameless in love. Unified in this purpose, while many gifts (cultures, perspectives, music, thinking processes), one Spirit.

We were made for good works. Not painfully specific and minutely mundane lines of doctrine. But, for good works – already prepared by God – to “be our way of life.”

We, as the church, are responsible to God, to Christ our true Mother, through whom all creation was made, in the power of the Spirit, we are responsible to God – to be a part of what Christ came to do to make things right. This Good News does not promote classifying individuals as “fitting the description” of … a black man who committed a crime, a brown man with beard who is a Muslim terrorist, a young woman with almond shaped eyes who is a nail salon worker.

Assumptions made on stereotypes are perpetuated when what we first see is: thug. terrorist. dry cleaning operator. when they could equally be seminary professor, physicist, financial advisor, my sister-in-law.

The Good News is for everyone, and the news is Very Good. But it only seems like good news to everyone if those who know the Good News look for God everywhere! Can you see God in a cannibal? Is the light of Jesus shining on you, through you to your neighbor, or when you go into Rockford, or Florida?

One way to being this process is to begin at home. This is a new year, and tomorrow is a new day. And we can be a light, illuminating the facets, the nuances that make each other uniquely God’s image.

So I love another Epiphany practice: “Chalking the door.” It is a common practice in many places, but particularly in Great Britain. I will explain, the liturgy is on the half sheet in your bulletin. Melody has graciously agreed to help demonstrate what you might do at home.

On your front door, or the frame, or whatever represents the opening to your home, draw one or all of these symbols.

C, M, and, B, stands for the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Belthasar. It is also thought to represent the Latin blessing, Christus mansionem benedicat, which means, May Christ bless this house. Separate each with the sign of the cross. You may offer to bless the home of your neighbor, as well. If they are of another faith or no faith, you could use a star to represent the light that is given to all:

20 † C † M † B † 20

A Blessing of the Home

L: The Lord is with you;

C: And also with you.

All: Peace be to this house and to all who live, work, and visit here.

L: The three wise men came to Bethlehem in search of the Lord. They brought to him precious gifts: gold to honor the newborn king, incense to the true God in human form, and myrrh to anoint his body, which one day would die like our own.

L: Let us pray. O God, you once used a star to show to all the world that Jesus is your Son. May the light of that star that once guided wise men to honor his birth, now guide us to recognize him also, to know you by faith, and to see you in the epiphanies of the daily experiences of our lives.

L: Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord — Jesus born of Mary — shall be revealed.

C: And all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

All: As the Wise Men once sought your brilliant light, O Lord, so may we week to live and work in your splendor.

L: O God of Light, bless this (our) house and this (our) family. May this be a place of peace and health. May each member of this family cultivate the gifts and graces you have bestowed, dedicating our talents and works for the good of all.

L: Make this house a shelter in the storm and a haven of rest for all in need of your warmth and care. And when we go out from this place, may we never lose sight of that Epiphany star.

C: As we go about our work, our study, our play, keep us in its light and in your love.

A Blessing of the Chalk for Marking the Door

L: Lord Jesus, through your Incarnation and birth in true human form, you have made all the earth holy. We now ask your blessing upon this simple gift of your creation — chalk. We use it as a tool to teach our children, and they use it as a tool in their play and games. Now, with your blessing, may it become a tool for us to mark the doors of our home with the symbols of your wise servants who, so long ago, came to worship and adore you in your first home.

People in turn mark the doorway with one or more of the symbols:

20 † C † M † B † 20

L: May we, in this house, and all who come to visit, to work, and to play, remember these things throughout the coming year. May all who come and go here find peace, comfort, joy, hope, love, and salvation, for Christ has come to dwell in this house and in these hearts.

All: May we be Christ’s light in the world. Amen.

Download A Blessing of the Home in English, French and Spanish (pdf) — courtesy of Sister Marta Elena Ceballos, Sister of the Good Shepherd, Roman Catholic Church. Used with permission.

So we come to this table to confess where we have not lived in unity of purpose: loving everyone, intentionally seeing God in those who are different from us. Blessing the doors of our homes to bless all who enter, and blessing the doors of our hearts so all are welcome to you.

Merciful God, as we come to you at midday, we have gathered ourselves for the days of work ahead. But we know that in the true light of day, you can see what we’ve hidden and covered up.

We confess that we have denied water to those in need; we have polluted streams and lakes; we have played it safe, staying clear of the forbidden places that we pass on our way to somewhere more important to us, forgetting that we carry your Spirit, your Spark, your New Life within us, and that you are found when we veer off the track.

Have mercy on us, O God, for we are sorry for all we have done in forgetting that we belong to you. Help us to live in the Spirit’s power and in the light of your love. through Jesus Christ. Amen!

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