[Isaiah 60:1-6 / Ephesians 3:1-12 / Matthew 2:1-12]
I remember when I was little my mom used to read a story about some children who lived in a cottage in the deep woods. Their mother always told them not to stray too far from the house and its little clearing, lest they get lost in the woods. But they were playing one day and there was still light in the sky and their game of hide and seek led them deeper and deeper into the forest until the trees were all about them and they were not quite sure which way home lay anymore. And then the sun began to set and the shadows crept out from under the trees and bushes. They were really lost now, lost and scared. They couldn’t see the path that led home. There were strange and frightening sounds in the woods around them. They sat down and wept holding onto each other. But then through their tears in the distance, one of them saw a light. Immediately their spirits lifted and they began to walk together toward the light. And do you know what the light was? It was the light that streamed from the inside of their home. It had gotten so late and so dark that their mother had opened the door to the little cottage and stepped out to look for them. The light from the open door guided their paths back through the woods, back to home.
Epiphany is about just such a light. The human race was living in darkness, in the darkness of the shadow of death itself. We were lost. Not sure where we were or who we were or where we were headed. We were frightened because we couldn’t see any way and we just wanted to sit down and cry. But suddenly in the darkness a light began to glow. A warm light. A welcoming light. The light from the door that flung open our true home. And suddenly we knew who we were and where we belonged. We were children of that house; it was our true home - a home we had all but forgotten in the darkness of our misery and sadness. And so the light beckoned us to arise and begin to walk the path to the door. And as we walk toward it we find that there were many others besides ourselves also lost out in the darkness. They too are streaming to the door, coming from every direction. And as we draw closer to the door and its light, we draw closer to one another. Close enough to clasp one another’s hands and walk together in growing joy as the light shines stronger and brighter. The light sets our hearts aflame with love and looses our tongues with songs of joy - the joy of our homecoming, the joy of the light that shines in our darkness. That’s the Epiphany light. It’s the light that shines from the open door to heaven. The light that is Jesus Christ.
Isaiah knew and sang about that light. Listen again to some of his words: “Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you and His glory will be seen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2) And what happens then? The light beckons those lost in the darkness to come home. “And nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see: they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant, and your heart shall thrill and exult.” (Is 60:3-5)
That’s how the prophet describes the joy of the homecoming. The joy of people who live isolated and alone in the darkness of this world, now arising and coming home to the light that shines in Jesus Christ. And so the wisemen from the east came. They were among the first of the Gentiles to be led to worship that light that shines in Jesus Christ. They came and saw him and fell down before him: recognizing in him the open gate to paradise, the open door to the Father’s mansions. They came to worship the newborn king, who is king not only for the Jews, but King for all those - Jew or Gentile - who are lost in the darkness and long for the light.
Do you know people who still wander in the dark? Do you know people over whose lives the light that is Jesus Christ has not shone? Do you know those who live in the despair of death and think that this life, such as it is, is all there is, and that there is nothing beyond, nothing more? You can show them that it is not so. Let them see the light of home reflected on your face. Let them hear from your mouth the invitation to rise and go home. Let them hear from you the good news that they have a Savior who opened the door to heaven that our sin had shut, opened it for all and none who come to it trusting him shall be turned away. Let them hear from you that a Savior has come to us, and gone down into the very darkness of our death on Calvary's tree and filled it with his own eternal light, and by His resurrection from the dead has opened through death itself a pathway home. Let them hear from you that for all who walk into the darkness of death hand in hand with Him, decay is not the end, but the end will be the shining lights of home, the table set and ready, the welcoming arms of a loving Father, and the joy of his presence that is without end.
Epiphany is the feast of light. You were given that light on the day you were baptized. One of the oldest names for the sacrament of Baptism is “the illumination” or “the enlightening.” To show that over the life of the baptized the light of Christ has shown, we give to the newly baptized a candle with the words “live always in the light of Christ.” And the light that shone in Baptism shines on in the Word, which is always “a lamp to the feet and a light for the path.” And at the table you witness that light. You sing as you come down from the Banquet of the Lord the words of old Simeon: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy Word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a LIGHT to lighten the Gentiles and the GLORY of thy people, Israel.”
Light in the darkness. Jesus, the door to heaven, a door that stands open wide to all in this age of grace. Jesus, the light that shines from the Father’s home. Jesus, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Our brother who lights the way. Let us cry out to one another and to those yet lost in the darkness: Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. We’re on the way home. A blessed epiphany to all! Amen