There are so many things that would be meaningful to explore in a
meditation this morning: so many items in the news and in our parish
life and our personal lives.
Whatever your politics, this week Massachusetts' new Governor took
the oath of office on a Bible with a Congregational past: after our
local parish churches and a Congregational minister from Yale organized
to free slaves from a ship and engaged John Quincy Adams as counsel, he
argued for their release, won it, and a Bible was presented to him
honoring the Amistad events, from our family history, and it was on
hand for our first African-American Governor to lean upon this week.
Whatever your politics, our church covenant has been on the vanguard
of women's rights and was the first to ordain a woman 150 years ago,
and now one serves as Speaker of the US House, opening doors for my
daughter and all of our children in extraordinary new ways.
But consider these stories, too. It has been five years since the
founding of Voice of the Faithful, the reform movement in the Roman
Catholic Church. Now three thousand US soldiers have died in Iraq. The
globe seems to be warming just now. We had a wonderful parish party
Friday night. We're struggling, and even hand-wringing a bit, about our
vision and budget for 2007, with mixed insights and tender feelings.
Just before the Constitutional Convention regarding same sex marriage
this week, the Executive Director of a religious group opposing these
rights physically assaulted a supporter of them in Worcester.
It's hard to know what to preach about this week. There is a lot to
celebrate and a lot to mourn. There is a lot to do.
The scriptures for yesterday and today -- days when tradition
presents the Birthday of Jesus for Armenian Christians, the arrival of
the Magi for many more, and the Baptism of Christ for still others --
the scriptures are filled with characters like those in our week's
news. Isaiah was written to exiles trying to get home, like gays and
lesbians in the modern world. Isaiah speaks of dramatic regional
struggles, like the war in Iraq. And it says, very unwelcome in my
ears, that darkness shall cover the earth. That's a
Matthew speaks of political rulers like Herod and religious leaders
such as his co-opted advisors, and then it speaks of Magi, a pretty
close representation of the Greek word that meant something like
scientist-philosophers, cunning as a brain surgeon and wise as the
Dalai Lama. Matthew also speaks of Jesus the infant and Mary His
mother. (Joseph is away for another verse, until the slaughter of the
innocents.) The Magi have gold and frankincense and myrrh, and just
about everything in the news now comes up in these two pericopes,1
from gifts to a church, to reconstruction of broken communities, to the
loss of children in war, to the strange behavior of some religious
Of course there is one more ingredient in these scriptures. It is
light. Light that is God's glory and identity, as well as God's gift.
There is the light of a star: something that can lead us but also
something we won't see if we don't look for it. For darkness is all
around in both of these stories: the darkness of despair, ignorance,
injury, and injustice. The darkness of cruelty, bigotry, and jealousy.
But light is at the center of the story. Light gets practically the
first and last word in God's story.
The light of Epiphany is complex, mysterious, deep, and obvious. The
meaning of Epiphany can be as simple as the four letter expression,
"Ah-Ha," or it can be as multi-faceted as the lifelong quest
to perceive God's presence. Epiphany means revelation on one
hand, but I'm more drawn to its additional definition, which is manifestation.
The scriptures we heard today, the season we're just beginning that
runs until Lent, is about the manifestation of God. Ideally
we'll go through this season and encounter a number of opportunities to
see God and repeatedly say, "ah-ha."
Can I show you something? Someone here will worry about this, but
it's no more dangerous than the average sermon example. This is
something that we received as a Christmas gift this year from church
friends: frankincense and myrrh. You light it, it smokes, and it gives
off a perfume. [Here Ken lit some bulbs of frankincense which flamed
and smoked, and carried them into the congregation on a plate.]
Why am I doing this? Everyone we know in this Biblical story almost
certainly smelled this scent. This was part of the very essence of the
time of birth and starlight and revolution. I just wonder if for a
moment, just a moment, we can perceive what they perceived? I wonder if
we can sense what they sensed?
I wonder if we can perceive the same conditions for the presence and
the manifestation of God?
What do we believe is a manifestation of God? When do we recognize,
feel, apprehend or comprehend God in our presence?
When is God more than an idea but material in our midst?
Is the inauguration of an African-American Governor a manifestation
of something about God? Is the election of a woman to such high office
in our democracy a manifestation? Is the legality of marriage for
committed, spiritually bound persons of the same sex? Is a group of
people uniting to sustain a parish, who may disagree about details but
still dining together, such a manifestation? When Christians unite to
reform their faith's expression, is God there? Is God in our communion?
Is God in our lives?
We could argue and debate each of these questions. We could come up
with pretty decent arguments that God is almost nowhere. I'm asking us
to do what the Magi did and by an act of will and hope and faith and
love look for a tiny light in an often dark and even distracting world.
For we won't see God anywhere if we don't look for God somewhere. We
won't be God's people anytime if we don't open ourselves to God
In Matthew, everyone in Jerusalem is worried about the birth of
Jesus. Everyone is worried because the balance of power is changing.
And that is hard. The light of one tiny star and the vulnerable baby
beneath it was starting to illuminate the abject inadequacy of the
claims of all temporal Herods as well as the fraudulence of their
promises, laid bare by Jesus' presence. Light changes things.
Are we ready for God's light? Are we open to perceive God's
manifestation in our midst? Are we willing to ask, whatever the story
-- political, personal, budgetary, or celestial -- how to find God in
our story, in each moment? Can we understand the material and transcend
it to engage divinity just by the light of God's gifts?
Light gives to that which it illuminates. It renews the nature of
that upon which it shines. It is the giver's nature, the gift, and the
thing that we then share by faith. Light is at the beginning and end of
our story. Where are we?
Copyright © 2007
Kenneth F. Baily. Used by permission.
1Pericope (pronounced "peh-RIH-cuh-pee") - an
individual "passage" within the Gospels, with a distinct
beginning and ending, so that it forms an independent literary
"unit"; similar pericopes are often found in different places
and different orders in the Gospels; pericopes can include various
genres (parables, miracle stories, evangelists' summaries, etc.).
[Definition from http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Glossary.htm