This is the message I presented for the Epiphany of the Lord (2 January 2005) at Tompkins Corners UMC. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1- 12.
Possibly the two greatest words in scientific discovery are “serendipity” and “epiphany”. Serendipity is defined as the accidental discovery of something. Many different discoveries in science have been termed serendipitous because the discoverer was looking for something else. Whatever the discovery was, the key is that the discoverer was prepared to act upon the unexpected information.
Epiphany is also a commonly used word in the area of science and discovery. It is sometimes paired with what is called the “aha moment”, that moment in a person’s life when a concept or idea becomes clear or understood. It is almost as if a light went off in one’s mind and the concept that one struggled so mightily to learn becomes immensely clear.
What we have to know today is that the wise men, however many there were, did not accidentally discover the Star of Bethlehem. It has been suggested that these wise men were from Babylon and, as such, were familiar with the prophecies proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. So when they saw that star in the East, a light figuratively went off in their collective minds. Here was the sign for which they had so diligently searched for so many years.
It stands to reason that when a light, no matter how small or bright shines, darkness will disappear. The presence of any type of light will always bring hope among despair. This is part of what Isaiah was speaking to. The world was in darkness, figuratively and literally. And the birth of Jesus would provide the light that would lead the people out of the darkness.
We have to understand that the appearance of this light is more than just an illumination of the world; it is a life-changing event. Isaiah’s words today show that things change; the wealth of others comes to those who walk in this new light. It should also be noted that it wasn’t only the lives of those Israelites who read and heard Isaiah’s words; so did lives change for all those who visited the baby Jesus. The wise men were probably prepared to return to their homes via the route they had traveled to Bethlehem but, as noted in the Gospel reading, they were warned not to. For to do so would mean another encounter with King Herod and this encounter would not be as pleasant as the previous one. So they returned by another route and their lives must have changed as they contemplated the nature of all they had seen and heard.
Paul encountered the light on the road to Damascus and we know the changes that encounter made in his life. He speaks of an understanding that only comes by revelation; in other words, Paul had an epiphany that day on the road. This epiphany of Paul’s gave him the opportunity to tell others of God’s grace which is to be given for all and not for just a select few.
The question for today is a simple one; “Do you see the light?” There is a moment in everyone’s life where that light appears. Some call it being born-again; I personally think of it in terms of the epiphany. There is a point in time where a light will go off in your mind and soul and you will suddenly understand that Christ did die for your sins, even though that death and resurrection was over 2000 years before you were even a thought.
And once you come into that light, that light becomes a part of you and as Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” But what are you going to do when this happens? John Wesley wrote “Whatever religion can be concealed is not Christianity . . . it is absolutely contrary to the design of the great author of it.” Like the sunrise that announces the beginning of a new day, so too must believers announce the dawning of God’s reign in this world. We are called to be witnesses to the love, grace, and mercy of God, without which none of us would be here. In a world where a pall of darkness seems to have covered us, the call for bold witness for Jesus Christ has never been more vital and necessary.
The Bishop of the Alabama – West Florida Annual Conference gave a sermon at the last Annual Conference in which he spoke of churches in his Conference that turned off the lights in the church. It was not a happy sermon to read because he notes that a number of churches in that Annual Conference were going to close. He also noted that while the conference did show a net gain in members, it was a smaller gain than in the past and more than half of the churches in that conference received no one on profession of faith. I have no idea if those statistics are the same in the New York Annual Conference but I would not be surprised if there were.
What we might think are problems only in our area appear to be nationwide. At a time when people may be more spirituality sensitive, they are still void of any notion of God’s redemptive action. This shouldn’t be the case, whether it is in Alabama or New York.
The wise men were drawn to Bethlehem because of the light they saw in the East. They knew from their studies that it meant something important and when they discovered it, their lives changed. Isaiah speaks of a light shining in the darkness, illuminating the lives of those who for so long walked in the darkness.
When the disciples first gathered together those first days after the crucifixion and resurrection, they did so in secret. But that doesn’t mean that we have to do so today. The hope of the world is found in Jesus Christ but the world today does not necessarily know that; the last few months make that very clear.
So we must be more than those who live in the light must; we must be those who heed Christ’s call to be the light of the world. It may mean that we will have to take risks, make sacrifices and move out of our comfort zone. Jesus’ statement that we are the light of the world is a call to mission; a call to light up the world with deeds of compassion and concern.
We know that the wise men saw the light and came to Christ, honoring him as the newborn King. We know that they left Bethlehem and traveled home by another way, changed by their encounter with Christ. We know that Saul left Jerusalem for Damascus, intent on persecution of Christians but he came to Damascus as Paul because of his encounter with the light. Do you see the light? What will you do?
 Adapted from “Turn on the Light” by the Bishop of the Alabama – West Florida Annual Conference on 7/2/2004.