Seeing Clearly – January 5, 2020
Isaiah 60:1-7, Matthew 2:1-12
January 5, 2020
This is the first Sunday of the year 2020. And I couldn’t resist the title I used for this sermon! Do you get it? 2020 – Seeing Clearly? And I like it because this is also Epiphany. Or rather tomorrow is. And Epiphany is a word that means “a sudden revealing,” or “a sudden realization.” It is a moment of “seeing something clearly.” “Ah, so that’s where I left my coffee cup!” (I have that Epiphany a lot!) And part of that Epiphany is remembering why I put it there. Because coffee cups rarely fly around the house on their own and settle in obscure places as though they’re hiding from me. (Although I’m sure that does happen!)
Epiphany is also the story of the Maji. They are the wise men of the Christmas story. They are the astrologers, the kings who have come from another country, another culture, and another religion, and they’re seeking to find and worship the one who has been born “King of the Jews.” And that is one of the biggest paradoxes of history! Because, God chose the Hebrews to show his love to the whole world, but they really didn’t do that. Instead, they had become very exclusive about their faith. “We’re the chosen people! And you’re not!” And here are these Gentiles coming to see their “king.”
They should have known better! They should have known from Isaiah 60 that “Nations shall come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your rising.” They should have remembered the words of Isaiah 49, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) (And that wasn’t the only place Isaiah said that!)
But… they didn’t. And maybe this visit of the Maji helped them “suddenly realize,” maybe it helped them to “see clearly” what they should have known all along! Then again, maybe not. Because this “King of the Jews” would grow into a man who made a lot of people uncomfortable, not only by what he taught about loving others, but by the people he himself reached out to – and by expecting them to do the same. And he challenged their faith by challenging their religious leaders, calling them “broods of vipers,” “blind guides,” and “whitewashed tombs!”
This Epiphany is the realization that God’s salvation is to the end of the earth! The Christmas story in Luke starts out with these words of the angel, which I often quote throughout the year. “Fear not! For I bring you good news of a great joy that shall be to all people…” And it’s interesting, and I never noticed this before, but that sentence does not continue, “for unto all – unto everybody – is born this day…” It would make sense that way, but that’s not what the angel said. He said, “For unto you is born…” Whether he intended it or not, the angel was implying that there would be some responsibility on their part to make sure the good news gets to all people! Perhaps the angel knew his Isaiah! (Maybe he knew him personally!)
So, unto us is born this great joy that shall be to all people. We are to help the world to see. We are to help with that Epiphany! And I would suggest, here at the beginning of a year – and a decade, that we strive to see it better ourselves. And we need to be careful not to get stuck in our usual way of thinking, and believing, and doing. We need to challenge our faith, and we need to grow in our understanding.
I love those commercials TV from… I think it’s T-Mobile. They’re about being “Just Ok.” The surgeon comes into the hospital room and says, “Hey, guess who got reinstated? Well, not officially.” Then he says to the patient, “Are you nervous?” “Yeah, me too.” “Ah, don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.” And the line is “Just ok is not ok.” And I think maybe we should ask ourselves, “Is our faith sometimes ‘Just ok.’”
The challenge for today is to see clearly. We need to strive to make our faith “2020.” And I think we need to talk about in terms of vision correction. We have glasses, contact lenses, Lasik surgery. And many of us have had our vision corrected. As you know, I’m still amazed at my own! But you see, we do things so we can see more clearly. Maybe that could have been the title of this sermon. “Seeing More Clearly.”
Paul told the Corinthians “Now we see in a mirror dimly. But then face to face.” Somewhere in the middle of those two times – the now and then – we should be trying to see more clearly. Does that make sense? Somewhere in the middle of the now and then – we should be trying to see more clearly. As we look at stories like this, I think we should be trying to understand them more deeply. Because sometimes I think we re-read, and we remember things in our faith, only to be more deeply entrenched in our own particular understanding. I think the goal is to move forward, and to go deeper, in our understanding!
Do you remember the old song from Godspel?
Day by day, day by day
O dear Lord, three things I pray
To (?) see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day
Yeah, I like the word “more” in those lines. And I like it in this title, too. “Seeing More Clearly.”
I consider myself to be a “lifelong learner.” Have you heard that term? It means that I’m always interested in learning new things. Do any of you consider yourselves to be a lifelong learner? Well, I think it’s the goal of Christians to be lifetime learners in the faith. And I think ultimately the idea is to see things as God sees them! And before you agree too quickly, that can be uncomfortable and scary! God’s ways of seeing things can make us very uncomfortable. And sometimes we can “get our back up.” Sometimes we can resist. And we might even find ourselves trying to silence the voice of God in our lives. That’s what happened to Jesus.
So, how do you stand on all this? There was a great Epiphany that day when the Maji came seeking to worship the newborn king. “Kings would indeed come to the light.” His salvation would surely “reach to the ends of the earth!” And we are part of that. We strive to see it “more clearly.” And we help others to see it, too.
Dear Lord, three things we do pray. To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, every day. May we seek and find growth in our understanding. May we see with your eyes, and love the world you so loved. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.