Epiphany: True Light, Real Darkness

Today we could sing:

Rise, shine, … Christ the Lord has entered.

He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded,

with grace unbounded.

Today on Epiphany we celebrate that Christ is made manifest. Isaiah calls to us, “Arise and shine for your light has come!” and later he adds “Rejoice!”

The magi rejoice at finding Jesus, for whom they have waited generations to find. The Gentiles of Ephesus are over joyed, for salvation is not just for Jews; it is for them (and everyone) as well. The listeners to Isaiah are called to be full of joy for the light of God has shone on them.

But does the Light of Christ made manifest bring us light, or just make our darkness more obvious? Because the darkness is still with us, more than 2000 years after Christ. Because, though we are a congregation of faithful Lutherans, our future is not a given. Because, while we could celebrate and be joyful, there are millions on earth whose lives are at risk, even as I preach this sermon. The reality is our choices have put many of those people at risk. More than just a few have died since I started the sermon, and many more will die before I finish.

Rejoice? Really?

Fruitcake is made of things that I do not like, but mixed together I think it’s a great holiday treat. It is so wonderful and rich, especially if you soak it in rum (which I cannot stand on its own either) that it’s too easy to get too much of it.

How can the people in today’s lessons be overjoyed for there are also things in their fruitcake, so to speak, that hardly allow for any celebration. The magi tip off crazy Herod, and though they and Jesus escape, warned to safety by dreams, Herod will slaughter hundreds of children trying to protect his power.

The Ephesians are welcomed at the table to become followers of Christ, but in their day Christians were hunted and killed by the empire and the religious authorities alike.

While Isaiah calls the people to recognize the light shining on them, there are no obvious reasons to be joyful. Returned from exile, life back home is tougher than they could imagine. They are set in conflicts against their own people with little resolution in sight. It takes centuries before Jesus is born, and it takes until May 14th 1948 before the Jews have a homeland. Even so, they have been at war ever since, with neighbours and enemies who wish them all dead.

Forget that the fruitcake has things in it we may not like. The call to rejoice is made in the midst of some very rotten eggs being thrown into the batter, and it is much worse than just a few rotten eggs.

Now I want to be joyful. I’m sure you do, too. With all our heart, soul, and mind we want to be joyful. But I am not going to eat rotten fruitcake and say it tastes good. I don’t want to be full of joy and have to ignore the real darkness all around.

I recently added a safety margin to my existence: wood heat. Fire is powerful. The refurbished freshly painted wood stove provides heat, and how!

With care I test fired the stove with a decidedly small load. I wanted to avoid explosive possibilities as the smoke is routed around inside to ensure it burns as much as possible at over 2000 degrees.

Fully fired the furnace still occasionally cures the paint on the shield, and the room becomes insufferably hot. Fully stoked with vents wide open the furnace could probably melt itself to the ground.

Days after the furnace was in use, in the relative comfort of a condo, I relaxed with a simple candle set on the coffee table. Only a good sense of smell alerted me that someone must have put out the candle.

But no, looking up I saw the newspaper, absently set aside, 1/4 engulfed in flame which in a minute could burn the table to the ground and likely the condo with it. So, grabbing the flaming newspaper in my bare hands I smothered the flames with the newspaper against itself, leaving ashes everywhere. The condo still stands, no fire damage. Just a scare.

Do we see the light, but prepare for the wrong dangers in the wrong places? Do we let evil and sin creep into our lives in relatively safe places and nearly burn us down to the core?

It would be a great relief if, after baptism and each epiphany, we could thereafter always choose the light. But that’s not how life works. We continue to sin. We continue to choose the darkness. Therefore we, with billions of others, continue to suffer and unnecessarily die.

We’ve heard the old stories of horrific abuses out of the past, but they are not gone. Do we choose to be ignorant of today’s injustice, malfeasance, and corruption? Today these public abuses of trust are perhaps worse than ever, since they are so secreted under spin and even blatant lies.

Remember the official and political denial of the destructive power of CO2 emissions. Now we have Climate Change run rampant. Environment Canada warns that the extremes of the past are now the new norms. We will not survive the new extremes without greater resilience than ever before. Perhaps my overly sufficient wood stove may become barely sufficient.

With light pollution all around we may not be able to see the wonders of the stars, the marvels of the wilderness worth preserving, nor the inherent beauty of even our city, our streets, or even our own backyards. How can we celebrate the light of Christ, if we live in such darkness?

It’s dark, real dark, in remote northern SK especially in the winter, especially for First Nations youth. Their suicide rate is more than 4 times greater than for other youth, which is already too high.

In Pinehouse SK, like many places around God’s creation, they know well what it means to arise and shine for their light has come. Youth in desperate straights, often survivors of multiple suicide attempts, are finding that photography is all about light: seeing light, catching light to tell a story. It also requires of the photographer to see the world in a different light, in the light of God’s beauty. It often remains unnoticed, until the technical capabilities of photographer with camera and equipment in hand bring God’s beauty to the photo. Photography done well communicates real wonders.

As the youth actively bring God’s beauty to their photos, they bring life and hope and light into the darkness of their own lives.

We live wholly by Grace in God’s creation lit up by Christ’s light. God commissions us to carry this same undeserved Grace and light to all others. No matter that we do not live as perfect people the Spirit uses us to be Christ’s voice, Christ’s heart of grace and unconditional love, and Christ’s hands for others.

In photography light is everything, and it is the contrast to the darkness and the play of specular light, light that is diffused and then reflected, that creates beauty.

We are reflections of God’s diffused light. We are specular, spectacular and beautiful. We share Christ’s light. We have the whole power of Christ moving through us, just as a small candle has the same power to consume a home, as can a fully stoked, vents wide open, wood stove.

Amidst every bit of darkness that is real, the reality is that the Holy Spirit is our flame and light, our breath, our hope, and our warmth and passion for life as God created it for All people to enjoy: Life as Christ’s servants is beautifully full of wonder. Therefore even in darkness we can rejoice with all our hearts, minds, and souls. So we sing:

Rise, shine, … Christ the Lord has entered.

He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded,

with grace unbounded.