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Arise, shine; for your light has come!

Sermon Preached at STETS, Salisbury, 6/01/2008
Revd Sue Groom, Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany.

When we hear the word ‘Epiphany’ we tend to think about the Magi, the wise men from the East who visited the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. This is hardly surprising considering we’ve just heard that very story from Matthew’s Gospel. But Epiphany is also a whole season in the church’s calendar. The season runs from today, January 6th, until February 2nd, when we celebrate the Feast of Candlemas.

Candlemas is the occasion on which we remember the infant Jesus’ first visit to the temple. Then we hear from Luke’s Gospel Simeon’s wonderful words of praise, ‘My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

The word ‘epiphany’ means ‘manifesting’, ‘revealing’, or simply ‘showing’. We speak about epiphanies as moments of sudden intuitive insight, flashes of understanding, instants when the light dawns. The Eastern Orthodox Church prefers the title ‘theophany’, which means ‘manifesting God’. As if to demonstrate the different ways in which God was revealed at the start of Jesus’ ministry, the Orthodox festival celebrates not only the wise men coming from the East, but also the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan and Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. During the season of Epiphany we recall all of these events.

I tend to think of the season of Epiphany as a season of light. In fact the Greek Church calls this season Ta Phota: ‘the lights’. A mere fortnight ago we experienced the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice; and now as each day dawns we look forward to more light. This is a season of increasing light, a season in which we are drawn towards the light, a season in which week by week we glimpse who Jesus is, through the eyes of the Magi in Bethlehem according to Matthew, through the eyes of John the Baptist by the river Jordan according to Mark, through the eyes of the disciples during the wedding at Cana of Galilee according to John, and through the eyes of Simeon and Anna in the temple in Jerusalem according to Luke.

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. Lift up your eyes and look around.

It is very difficult to see in the dark. The Native American leader Black Elk made a wise observation. He said, ‘It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and changing shadows. Among those shadows people get lost.’ We need the light. It is easy to keep our heads down, to get bogged down in daily life, to keep our eyes focussed on the here and now, on the concerns and demands of today, to gaze at our own navels. We have to lift up our eyes to see the stars, to see beyond ourselves, to see the bigger picture, to gain another perspective on life. We have to look around to see what the Magi see, to see what John the Baptist sees, to see what the disciples see, to see what Simeon and Anna see, to see what others see.

The light, and the ability to see the light, is a gift from God, a manifestation, a revelation. When God’s glory shines, his people live in the glow, we reflect the light and become a presence of light in the world. As we move from darkness to light, we move from absence to presence, from despair to hope, from dismay to well-being. As we shine, others are drawn to our light, to the light of the world.

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

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