I saw the new Star Wars movie “Rogue One” over the holidays. If you are into those kind of movies, I recommend it. It’s the mythic battle of good vs. evil Just when the powers of the “dark side” seem certain to win, a person arises whose power and light confounds the darkness. In this movie it is Jin a young woman.
What is different about “Rogue One” is that all the heroes die – and yet by their actions the truth is saved and we know that another day is coming, others will rise up, and the darkness cannot win.
It is classic, it is biblical, and it is true.
Scripture reminds us again and again and again that in the darkest hour the stars shine brightest, that in the shadow of the cross a light shines, even when we are on our last legs, there is an energy, a power that calls us onward. The truth goes on. And in time God will reconcile all to God’s own self.
As the Gospel of John reminds us: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not over come it.” Or as Eugene Peterson writes: “The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.”
I used to be scared of the dark but as soon as I flipped the light switch or pulled the chord, even the little night light was enough to make the darkness vanish – that is the way it is with light – you turn it on and its power fills whatever space it is in.
For you lectionary purists today is “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday, but I am choosing the Epiphany texts (When the wise men, the Magi, visit the manger) because I think it is important in the midst of the “bleak mid-winter” to consider the power of light, the power of your own light.
Epiphany means “to be brought to light” or “cause to appear.”
Isaiah proclaims: “Arise! Shine! Your light has come – the Lord has risen upon you.” In the midst of the deep darkness of Isaiah’s day, God turns on the light and invites his people to turn their light on too.
We were at a wedding before the New Years and the newly-married couple came from the darkness outside into the banquet hall where everyone had sparklers, and each person lit their sparkler off of someone else’s already lit sparkler.
And so I imagine God way back in Isaiah’s day holding out this great sparkler of heat and energy and saying: Get lit up, come on, let’s shine in the darkness.
This season is rather dark, and many would say that we live in a time of darkness – intellectual darkness, emotional darkness, political darkness, economic darkness – and some people are down – but here comes God: Arise! Shine! Let there be light! It is time to flip the switch! It is time to rise up, shine and give God your glory, glory!
In Matthew, we have the very well-known story of the wise men coming to see the baby Jesus because they have seen the light of the star, while nasty old king Herod – “Darth Vader” of the first century – is frightened, as shadow forces are always frightened by the light, by truth and hope and love.
Interestingly, Herod the bad old king is searching the scriptures to find the answer as to where the Messiah might be found while the Magi follow the star. They see something interesting in the night sky. While Herod and his minions look down, the Magi look up and set off.
Mind you, the Magi are not Jews. They are not people of the covenant. The Hebrew Scripture teaches that astrology is a sin; don’t look to the stars. And yet, as is often the case in the Bible,we find a contradicting reality. These Magi are willing to “Arise, let their light shine” and begin a journey to the manger.
Truth is truth, I guess, wherever it is found and followed; wherever people are willing to risk and go seek.
And these magi, astrologers, wise men know the truth when they see it in the face of the baby lying in the manger. And they know that there is something wrong with Herod and so they go home by another way; This wonderful sense of spiritual intuitiveness.
We should all learn from and imitate the marvelous spiritual discipline of those wise people: they pay attention to what is going on around them, they are inquisitive, willing to follow where the path leads, they are humble enough to bow and offer their gifts, they pay attention to their dreams; they travel in community!
Do you believe that today is the day that the Lord has risen upon you? So it is time for you to arise and shine and pay attention and begin the journey and travel in community.
That is a great problem of our time and of many of our lives. We isolate ourselves, we don’t pay attention, we don’t think we have a light to shine. We think we’re not good enough, or smart enough or ready enough; we don’t have a gift that is really worth anything. And that is so wrong.
As Thomas Merton reminds us: “We who have seen the light of Christ, are obliged… to make know the presence of the Savior to the ends of the earth…above all by revealing in our own lives, his manifestation, his divine epiphany, in the world in which God has created and redeemed.”
You see, God is still calling you and me to rise up and shine, to rise up and follow. You and I have to walk in the light of God’s love and live it – no matter how cloudy or dark it gets – no matter who is on the throne, no matter where you find yourself. You have to flip that switch, confound the darkness, and change the world, even your little piece of it.
I feel God is so present now, so beaming now, his star is shining now – and yet so many are looking at the ground, shuffling around, when we should be looking up rejoicing.
So many feel as if we have nothing to give; when all you have to do is offer whatever you have and it will be more than enough to change things.
But I feel, and I suspect you do too, that it is scary to turn on your light, to let it shine, to follow the star, to let yourself “dream the impossible dream,” to be the hero in your own drama – because you might get in over your head.
Well, you might, but don’t get out ahead of yourself. All God is asking you to do is pay attention and follow the star. Don’t moan about the darkness or what you cannot do. Just turn on your light, do what you can do, give what you give – be willing to take just one step in the direction of your longing, to make just a move to your deepest truth – and to go on that journey.
A very wise woman, a magi, Mary Oliver reminds us: “to pay attention, to be astonished, and to talk about it.”| This is what the magi of the bible were doing and it changed everything. This is what God is calling you and me to do.
I have been reading the poet Mary Oliver lately – this is the holy journey that God is calling you to take:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
kept shouting their bad advice –
Though the whole house began to tremble and
you felt the old tug at your ankles.
“Mend my life!” each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations,
though their melancholy was terrible.
It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little, as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice which you slowly
recognized as your own,
That kept you company
as you strode deeper and
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life that you could
Arise! Shine! It is time.
God is waiting.