A sermon for Epiphany
Epiphany marks our celebration of the arrival of Christ as shared with the world at large, with us, gentiles, gaining access to Christ through the wisdom of the Magi, seeking the Christ child, knowing that a messiah has been born, that the scriptures and prophecies have come true, recognizing that the appearance of this star in the East is a guide point that even those who should be expecting it, the Jewish leadership and religious authorities, have missed. Epiphany is a marking of the light come into the world to lead us, guide us, direct us home. Home to the Christ child. Home to the warm welcome of Mary, holding this child, to those who come from afar to pay homage and offer gifts, to recognize the presence of the holy in our midst. The light shines forth for us on this day of Epiphany. The light stands before us, driving out the darkness. The light illuminates our world like the brightness of the dawn. That glow that spreads across the hilltops, shooting pinks and reds and oranges and yellows across the night sky to herald a new day. That glowing sign that a new day has come, that light will always fill the void created by the dark.
We know how special this light is being residents of the Pacific Northwest, specifically the Western side of the region. We live in a grey climate zone (at least as far as the winters are concerned). The grey skies permeate into our consciousness, the coldness envelops us to our bones. And then, the light pokes through. Maybe to share a beautiful sun rise only to give way to a wet day. Maybe just for a moment. Maybe just a tease of what we have to look forward to as the days continue to grow longer. This light, peeking out from behind the grey is a reminder that even if we can’t see it, even if the skies huddle in clouds, fog, rain, the light is still there. The light is still a part of our day. Even if we cannot see it, the sun is there. That doesn’t mean that perhaps we need to escape from time to time to warmer climates in January or February, but it is comforting to know that it cannot, will not stay grey forever.
There is an interesting connection to this experience of weather, of grey-ness, of light just waiting to poke through, and our expression of church in the Pacific Northwest. Those of us who go to church, who are comfortable in our faith, carry that light of Christ with us. We allow it to warm us. We rely on it to guide and protect us. And, much like our weather, we do a good job of hiding it behind a layer of grey.
This is not to say that we aren’t living a Christian life or that our identity as a Christian is hard to see, but rather that we often find ourselves blending in with our surroundings, of allowing the prevailing color palette to dictate to us what, where, when, and how much of the light we are allowed to share. Our example of Christianity gets shrouded in the cloud cover that permeates our winters. Our willingness to share our faith in bold and vibrant color is diminished, is filtered, through a uniquely Pacific Northwest attitude of individualism that (perhaps in response to our prevailing grey-ness throughout winter) encourages us to focus inwardly, to huddle into ourselves, to seek the warmth and light that is present solely within, forgetting that there is light out in the world, that there is light just beyond the clouds that keep our days grey.
Now, as much as I love and fully claim being a Pacific Northwest native, a person fully formed with this sense of individuality, a person fully embracing of the unique and special flair with which we as a region approach our world, approach our understanding of community and fellowship, I realize that, in many ways, in order to share the Good News of the light of Christ, I have to shed some of the predilections towards insular individualism, towards hunkering down in the grey-ness, in embracing the pride of being able to weather the weather.
But, this is not to shed the Pacific Northwest identity, but rather simply shed the worst tendencies of our collective ability to embrace all of the grey, forgetting that this grey creates an experience of light and life that is unrivaled in our world. Because of the grey we are able to experience the deepest greens, the beauty of creation, the variety of creation in wildlife, in geography, in all that fills this region with the unique beauty that is found only here. We have all of this beauty because of the grey that nurtures and feeds this region through the dormant months of winter. We have all of this beauty and vigor of life within us as people of the Northwest because that is who we are, because that is the region we love, because we recognize the utility of the grey, and while appreciating it, keep it from dominating our experience of this place, of this life.
When we are able to shed the suffocating hold of the grey, we are able to embrace the light that is constantly present with us. We are able to embrace the joy, vibrancy, boldness, of the light that is always with us, even as the grey dominates our surroundings. We are able to share that light with bold and vibrant color, inviting others into that light, inviting others to see past the grey and embrace the light that is always present with us.
As Christians we are called to make that light known so that others might be led out of darkness. But too often, we don’t see people truly struggling in darkness. We don’t spend our days interacting with folks who are clearly lost in the abyss. But, and especially here in the Northwest where it is encouraged, even nearly revered, we do meet people every day that are shrouded in the grey of this world. And, it is much harder to remember to share the light with them, to know how to share the light with them, because they seem to be pretty comfortable living into the grey. They seem pretty comfortable living with knowledge of light at some point but being perfectly happy with the grey that permeates them now. It is our responsibility then to take this celebration of Epiphany to heart, here in the heart of winter, and celebrate the light that has come to be with us, to not just drive back the darkness but combat the grey in bringing us boldness of light.
In the light, we have abundance. Abundance of life. Abundance of color. Abundance of knowledge that in and through Christ we can bring light into this world. In the light, we experience radiance of spirit. In the light, we experience a thrill in our heart. In the light, we find our hearts rejoicing at the opportunities that lie before us because we have the light, because we have been granted access to the light, because we have followed the star, recognized the birth of the Christ child amongst us, have brought gifts and celebrated for the life that is to come, for the teacher that is to lead us, for the Good News of great joy that we cannot help but share with others.
And that is our call, to share this light out to the world. To create opportunities for the light to break through the grey cover and remind us, all of us, that the light is constantly here, with us, filling our days, even if it is shrouded. We have to create opportunities for others to see the light at work in us through our work in this world. We have to create opportunities for others to see the light at work in this place, so that they know this place as a source-point for that light, so that they know this place as one of vibrant and bold proclamations of Christ. We have to create opportunities for others to see the light at work in themselves, to see the light that is inherently within them, always, waiting to burst forth and fill their lives, fill this world, with an abundance of radiant rejoicing.
On Epiphany we celebrate that the light has come into the world and that we have been granted access to it. In our world today, it can be hard to remember that the light is still with us. In can be especially hard when the cultural and societal norms of our region seem to demand that we embrace our stoic individualism, that we embrace the grey-ness of our winter months, as a badge of honor, as a way of life. We are called to shine the light, always. We are called to help the light break through the grey. We are called to run counter-culture and embrace the identity of a community founded on light that rejoices in our abundance. This doesn’t mean we turn away from our regional uniqueness, but rather that we reframe our understanding of this approach to life through our identity as Christians, that we embrace our Northwest flair with an intentionality to showing how this grey is really an opportunity to see the light in greater glory and radiance. To appreciate the light when it is with us. To know that the light will return. To share this Good News of great joy that our grey-embracing individualism is not about silo-ing ourselves but rather an opportunity to share with the world how the light fights back all shades of the dark.