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At Its Rising

Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12 and When I am Among the Trees by Mary Oliver

Sunday January 9th, 2022

By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche

Good morning and happy new year and happy epiphany! It’s good to be back here with you for worship in this year of 2022, wow!

I invite you to take a deep breath, to let yourself arrive more fully as we all prepare our hearts and minds to hear whatever word God has for us this day. Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

“there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising…”! This is part of the story of Epiphany that we tell again together today; it is a star that leads the way. And I was thinking how nice that would be to have that kind of clarity, to have a sign so specific. In a world of shadows and places that seem to have little light on the path, wouldn’t that be incredible to have such an obvious sign like that to follow, a bright, light to lead the way? A star…to show the right way to go?

And I was thinking of this because it seems in our congregation, our community and maybe even our country we are in a time of discernment, listening for direction. In our church we are discerning what it means to practice extravagant welcome with our renewed commitment to being open and affirming, where we are to go with a new vision statement, where to land with our new worship schedule. And in our community, it seems to me that after a trying year that literally ended in flames, we are discerning how to make room with our housing policy and urban planning for those who need homes and we are listening for direction on how to keep living and keeping one another safe in this changing and challenging pandemic. How do we know what is the right way to go, the right thing to do, the best way to move forward together?

In our shared life here, as a community bound together in love, how do we know which way to go? How do we discern the direction of Spirit? What is it that is ahead of us, something that is rising before us, that will be like a light, like a star burning bright? What is our version of a star at its rising? How do we know which way to go?

This Epiphany story that we heard from the Gospel of Matthew has inspired hymns and carols, poems and plays and maybe like a lot of scripture, much of what we know about it, isn’t actually in there, it’s just mapped onto it.

It doesn’t actually say that they are magi or kings and it doesn’t actually say there are three of them on the journey, rather it says that there are gifts. According to scholars like Paul Achtemeier, “perhaps It would be more accurate to think of a larger caravan that included… (men and women) “servants, supplies, and the like, who have been likely traveling for weeks, if not months.”

Instead of clean kings who had it all together, it was more likely a funky mix of people, imperfectly and sometimes frustratingly making their way together toward the light together.

But do you know what is in the text, what this story does put right in front of us? Joy. It says that when the star stops, they felt joy, in fact it says “they were overwhelmed with joy.” And hearing this story again this year makes me wonder if we miss this essential gem with all that we have added to the story. Because what if part of how we know which way to go, is joy? What if part of how we know where to stop, is joy? What if that is part of how we know we are on the right track?

I don’t mean to say that we are only called in directions that make us feel good or keep us comfortable, rather what I mean is that, what if sometimes the Spirit lures us and leads us by putting before us what will add love and fun, connection and caring? What if part of how we know where to go is simply where there is more light? What if sometimes God guides us to the next best thing with what brings joy?

That’s not the same thing as what bring us what we want, perhaps, but I think it is what is needed. What if it’s like the poet Mary Oliver told us? “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”

And yet, on the spiritual journey, often we get in our own way, often we are the ones blocking our own light, making what is simple seem like something else, more complex and out of reach. Thinking we are protecting our light, we do things that dim it in fact and live as if there is more we need to have or know, as if something external, something out there needs to change, before can get what we need or where we need to go. Our egos, our anxieties, our own insecurities, our deepest fears- all block us and stop us from being filled with light and being open to joy.

Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber writes of how the story of Epiphany highlights the harm fear can do. She writes of, “a story of 2 men -Herod, who is a ruler on a throne of power, and Joseph who is a peasant in an unconventional marriage. One man is powerful and one man is not. And yet the text only describes one of these men as being afraid. And it wasn’t the peasant. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that King Herod made the Magi tell him where this baby was because he was frightened. Frightened of a baby. Threatened by a horoscope and a newborn. And this fear that his position in life is so tenuous that it must be fortified by sacrificing whoever it takes is not a theoretical by the way - this Herod guy literally killed two of his own sons because he felt threatened by them. His own sons.” And she points out that “Fear that what he had could be taken away, or fear of not getting what he wanted turned him into a monster. So much so that when he can’t quite locate the right baby, the one that is so threatening to him, he just sends for all the children two and under in and around Bethlehem to be killed. Take that in.” She says, This is what fear does.”

Fear of not getting what we want brings out the monsters in all of us.

Fear literally separates us from hearing God, from seeing light, from feeling love that abounds, from seeing the right way to go. It shows up as anger and addiction, disconnection and despair, hateful speech and harmful action, but often those things are fear with something else over them. Fear of not getting what we want, fear of being wrong or getting it wrong, stops us from hearing what we need to hear.

Because what if part of discernment, what if part of how we know where to go, is simply where there are more of us lit up, with our lights shining bright, our hearts open? What if sometimes God guides us to the next best thing with joy?

Even and especially in what can feel like unbearable times, I believe joy is one of our stars, rising before us, as a bright light to follow. In shadow and grief, I believe light lives in us, and this year maybe what we need more than ever is fun, joy, being together with lightness?

I will end with this blessing called Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light

by Jan Richardson

blessed are you

who bear the light

in unbearable times, who testify

to its endurance

amid the unendurable, who bear witness

to its persistence

when everything seems in shadow

and grief.

blessed are you in whom

the light lives, in whom

the brightness blazes— your heart

a chapel,

an altar where

in the deepest night can be seen

the fire that

shines forth in you

in unaccountable faith, in stubborn hope,

in love that illumines every broken thing

it finds.

Wouldn’t it be incredible to have such an obvious sign like a star at is rising to follow, a bright light to lead the way? I think we already do…and I think it’s you and you and you lit up with joy. So beloved of God, let go of fear, feel the light and be the light for yourself and for others. And don’t forget that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world, let your light shine!” So blessed are you who bear the light in unbearable times. Let us follow together to the places that bring us joy and let us remember that sometimes we make it more complicated, but really it is “to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.” In the deepest night can be seen the fire that shines forth in you. You are the light of the world! Joy will show us the way to go. May it be so. Amen.

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