Lectionary blog for Jan. 6, 2013
The Epiphany of Our Lord
Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6;
Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

I was once deep in the stacks of the graduate library at UNC-Chapel Hill during a power outage. I was surrounded by total darkness. And I was not only in the dark, I was also lost, with no idea of where I was or how to get out.

At first, when I thought it would be over in a few minutes, it was interesting. Hmm, so this is what total lack of light is like. Then it got a little funny as I heard people trying to move around followed by loud bumps and crashes and muffled curses. But as time went on it got very annoying and not a little frightening.

Finally I spotted a small beam of light. I yelled out, “Stay still, I’ll come to you!” for I knew it was easier for me to go to the light than it was for the person with the light to search for me, especially when no one even knew I was there.

I found my way to the library assistant by following the beams of his little keychain penlight. Together we found the staircase and worked our way out of the darkness into the light.

Afterward, I kept thinking, “It’s amazing how little light we need sometimes.” Like the magi, who only needed the pinpoint of a new star to find their way to Jesus.

The world can seem an awfully dark place sometimes. Things like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and the ongoing wars, rebellions and oppression in the Middle East burden us with doubts about the reality of God or the goodness of humanity.

Personal lives can also be dark:  strained relationships, economic troubles, loved ones sick or dying or both, marriages or careers or children haven’t worked out quite the way we’d planned.

We do what we can to push back the darkness.

Some people give in to addictions, numbing their pain with their addiction of choice. Others embrace philosophy or practice politics, believing and hoping that by thinking right or doing right they can cure their sickness unto death,  that by saving the snail darter they can somehow save their souls.

Still others go for material success, as if by surrounding themselves with enough stuff they can insulate themselves from decay and despair.

Some try to turn back the clock, struggling to resurrect “traditional values,” as if time could be reversed and the days of Ozzie and Harriet, the Beaver clan and Mayberry can be brought back to save us from ourselves.

A few years ago I was in line in the post office when the clerk turned and yelled back to his supervisor, “Hey Jim, lady here wants to trade some religious for some traditional.” It occurred to me that is what many of us have done without thinking too deeply about it, trading the truly religious for the merely traditional.

In our search for meaning, we have tried the safe route of attempting to recreate happy times and safe places in our lives by following “the way we’ve always done it” instead of taking the risk of following the star into new times and new places.

The world needs the light of the gospel, but the gospel is not a garish, neon light. The light of Christ has always been a little hard to see, something of a “dimly burning wick.”

The magi have much to teach us here. They were people who made a little light go a long way. Indeed a very little light led them to go a long way. It is surprising how little light we need sometimes, if we have the faith to go with it.

They didn’t have the scriptures or the religious traditions to prepare them for a messiah. They didn’t grow up in a culture that expected a savior to come and rescue them.

The only light they had was the light of the stars, and this new star, this new light, this new thing in the sky. What did it mean? Where might it lead? They didn’t know, but they followed.

God sent us the light in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a light that can pierce the darkness of our lives.

But it is a small and somewhat unobtrusive light.

And it is at times encrusted with 2,000 years of traditionalism.

And it is a light that must compete with brighter and more insistent lights in order to be seen.

But it is amazing how little light one needs sometimes in order to find one’s way.

We have been called to follow the light and to be the light for others.

We have been called to gently shine the patient and never-ending love of God into the midst of all the world’s dark and scary places.

We have been called to invite all God’s beloved children into the light.

Don’t worry; you don’t have to shine that brightly.

It is amazing how little light you need sometimes to find your way.

Amen and amen.

Talk back

  • In what futile ways have you tried to push back the darkness?
  • When have you been able to shine the light of Christ into someone’s darkness?
Delmer Chilton
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

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