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(Matthew 2:1-12 in Word For All Ages)
Isaiah 60:1-6, 19-20
It’s a funny thing about pronouns, how they can shape our experience, how they can define our reality, how they can say what is true and what is not.
All through Advent, almost all the key-moment pronouns are in the third person.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, we hear. We are glad and grateful that on those who lived in a land of deep darkness light has shined.
We are glad, but it is as if we are talking about someone else—because, in part, the prophet was speaking to someone else: to ancient Hebrews who were in a heap of trouble. We Christians have re-interpreted much of Isaiah to understand it in terms of Jesus, and so we try to watch and wait for Jesus the Light to break into our darkness, again. But that third-person thing makes it hard to get our hearts around it:
The people. On them.
A little later in Advent, though, the pronouns begin to shift. The angel Gabriel is sent to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to the home of a girl named Mary. Do not be afraid, he tells her, for you have found favor with God.
Suddenly the story has shifted from third-person to second-person—but it’s still another person, someone other than ourselves, we think. Until, that is, Mary says, Here am I the servant of the Lord. Yes, I will conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus. And later, MY soul magnifies the Lord.
On Christmas Eve we get some more pretty great second-person pronouns. An angel appears to shepherds abiding in the fields, saying, Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing YOU good news of great joy for all the people: to YOU is born a savior who is Christ, the Lord.
We are pretty good at owning that YOU, at rejoicing that Jesus has been born for us, to bring light into our world.
But then the story shifts again, back to the third-person—to what tradition tells us is actually three people, wise ones from the east who see a star and leave everything to follow it across hills and deserts, rivers and valleys, bearing gifts all the while, gifts for him, the baby savior.
It is a lovely story; it is a story we love—but, again, there is an element of third-person detachment about it. They saw the child, they knelt down and paid him homage, they offered him gifts, they went home by another way.
The church calendar calls us to celebrate their arrival, naming it the Feast of Epiphany. The ancient church gives us an entire season of Epiphany, a time of light and revelation to consider all the ways in which Jesus shows us the loving, healing, justice-making character of God, and God’s hopes for the world, God’s hopes for us.
We love the idea of Epiphany but the truth is, especially in Protestant America, we have moved on. Christmas is over, the decorations have been put away, we have gone back to school and work, and, once again, we are in darkness. Or so it feels, especially now, especially for those of us who are concerned about the changes coming to our country. If we are not careful, we might forget all about the Light, the Light that is the life of all people, the Light that shines in the darkness, the Light no darkness can overcome.
But Epiphany also comes bearing second-person pronouns. Epiphany comes bearing the gift of truth that this Light is for us. Epiphany, and especially the baptism of Christ, come to remind us that we, too, are God’s light in a world of darkness; we, too, are called to shine.
Arise. Shine. For YOUR light has come. The glory of God has risen upon YOU. Lift up your eyes and look around. Look for the everlasting light of God’s love and follow THAT, keep your eyes on THAT prize, and your days of mourning in the dark shall be ended.
Rise and shine! Your Light has come! What are you waiting for? What are we waiting for?
Rise and shine! Rise even in the darkness, as Jesus did. Rise in the face of Roman occupation, rise and shine in the face of deepening darkness. Rise and go down to the river to pray, shining all the way. Despite all the evidence, make a decision to trust the Source of Love and Life. Rise and stand in line with the sinners and the poor, the rejected and dejected, the oppressed and marginalized, the invisible ones. Be a light to the nations; be a light to this nation. Imagine that the Holy One is doing a new thing, even now. Even in this broken world. Even in your messy life. Rise and bring forth justice, you servant of the Lord. Rise and stand up for immigrants and people of color, women and LGBTQ folks, the earth and all her creatures.
Rise and go down into the waters of baptism so that you, too, might receive your anointing, your commissioning, your empowerment, your charge to shine. Rise up from the darkness, rise up from your brokenness and longing, rise up from the murky mess of injustice, from the fatigue of the struggle. Rise up and see the light and hear the holy words: This is my Child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Rise and shine that you might become who you were created to be.
In solidarity with the outcast and the oppressed, Jesus went down to the River Jordan to be baptized. In claiming the fullness of his humanity, he received the proclamation of his divinity. His light was revealed.
In remembering Christ’s baptism, we are invited to remember our own. We are summoned to wake up to receive and embrace the Light that has come for us, and we are empowered to let God’s light shine in and through us. We are invited to move from third-person to first-person, from a story about something that happened to someone else in some other place in some other time to our own time, our own place, our own story. We are called to shine right here and now.
We have been baptized into the light of Christ and, like him, clothed with the power of the Spirit and raise to new life in God. As Jesus’ identity and purpose were revealed through his baptism, so may ours be. Just as we recall Jesus’ baptism to see again who he is, we remember our own baptism to see more clearly, to be reminded who and whose we are, and to what great works of love and mercy we are called. Just as Jesus’ baptism inaugurated his ministry of radical love and self-giving, we remember that our own baptisms commission and empower us to live our own ministries of healing, teaching, renewal, reconciliation, liberation, resisting the darkness, and shining the light.
We have some water here this morning—water from the tap of First Church Amherst mingled with a little water from the River Jordan [hold up the bottle and pour some in]. (And, because we are dust, that water comes complete with sediment and dirt.)
Our closing hymn will invite you to come to the feast of love and the water of life. After you receive communion you may come here—not to a river and not to the font (this is not a baptism)—but to this bowl of water and light and Spirit.
If you have never been baptized, I hope you will consider how baptism could bless you, the church, and the world. Perhaps you could begin the journey today toward making that public commitment, letting all the world see that you belong to God.
I invite all of you to come to the water for a blessing, to remember who and whose you are, to renew your promises to God and to Christ’s church, to re-claim your identity as God’s beloved, to know that with you God is well pleased, and to take full hold of the abundant life God wants for you. Come just as you are to renew your promise to follow Jesus.
Arise, shine; for your light has come—second person.
Come and receive God’s blessing that you might say, first person, God’s light has come for me. God’s light lives in me. I will see and be radiant. My heart shall thrill and rejoice, for I am God’s beloved, and the darkness will not win.