Sermon Preached for the Epiphany of Our Lord, Observed, on Sunday, January 3, 2010.
Do you remember the childhood rhymes about the stars? Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky! Or... Star light, star bright, The first star I see tonight; I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight? Man has throughout history looked upon the stars for wishes, dreams, and guidance. But it was not until the twinkle of a certain star led the Magi to leave their homes in the East (probably Persia) and follow its mysterious light on the long journey to the place where a King had been born – a King for all people who would rule in mercy, forgiving sins and imparting the gift of eternal life.
Another king, this one evil, named Herod, wished and plotted by the stars to kill this King the star proclaimed and the Magi sought. Amid all the intrigue and suspense, God was at work making the light of the star shine in the Light of the world who shatters the darkness of sin and death and shines forever with the light of grace and life. The star points to Him whom the Prophets called “the Sun of Righteousness.” Though we might be curious about the star, this story is not the stir over a star but the stir over the One to whom the star points – the King who comes to keep God’s ancient promise to save His people.
No, the twinkle in this story is not the star, but the surprise of the God of creation who enters His creation in the flesh and blood of His Son, born of the Virgin Mary. Herod was right to fear. He comes as King to threaten earthly rulers – not by taking over their kingdoms but by inaugurating an eternal kingdom where sin is erased and death is undone. This story is about the King who rules not with earthly might but heavenly mercy, not with threat but compelling grace, and not with fear but with wondrous love. This King is the Son – but not just any Son. This one counts a Virgin as His mother and God as His Father. He wears the ordinary human flesh and blood of a baby, a human child, but hidden in this appearance of weakness is the divine nature of the Holy and Mighty God through whom all things were made. The star points not to King who wears the crown He inherited but the King who earns His crown. He wears the crown of His father David and sits upon the eternal throne of His heavenly Father’s promise, to reign in mercy forevermore. But only because He would earn that right on the cross.
This is not stir over a star but the stir over a THE Light of God, who is strong enough to become weak, powerful enough to become vulnerable, loving enough to become just like the people of His creation (except sin). This is the genuine humility of the God who has every right to pride and place but chooses service and suffering to redeem His fallen creatures. This humility turns our world upside down and challenges every assumption that sin and death had forced upon our idea of life.
The Light of heaven has come down to shine in earth’s darkness. If you are not so sure this place is dark, look into your heart. What do you find there? Virtue or vice? Good or evil? Righteousness or sin? If we allow our consciences to speak for us, they will admit the truth we do not want to – we live in a world made dark by sin and its death. More than sin we were born into, each of us has added a mountain of sin to Adam’s rebellion. This sin has stolen our dignity and hope. But the first step to redemption is the painful exposure of this darkness. Before He can forgive our sins, He must expose what had banished into darkness and reveal what we want no one ever to know. The first job of His Light is to expose our wound, to reveal our sin – as unpleasant as this is, healing cannot begin without confronting and confessing the truth is this darkness.
The light of the star shines in darkness to expose us, to expose our weakness, to expose our darkness. There is no hiding from the glare of His light. We see not only what we want, but what we wanted no one to see. The Holy Spirit gives us the eyes to see our need and teaches our heart contrition and the courage to admit what we had kept hidden.
Having exposed sin for what it is, the light of this star shines to take from us this burden of sin, its heavy weight of guilt, and its destiny of death. The One who is the Light paid for the right to claim our sin and death as His own, and to forgive us and give to us the life stronger than death. The star came to shine upon Him whose Light led through suffering beyond our imagination and a tomb darker than any our bodies will know. In this lonely suffering and cold death, He shines. The darkness could not hold Him and in Him it cannot hold us. This Light beckons us to follow Him as the Magi followed the star so long ago.
The Light of heaven has come down to arm God’s people for the battles of their lives – not with the might or weapons of man but with this Light that overcomes sin and shines in death’s darkness. What is that John wrote: To all who received Him, who walk in His Light, He gave the power to become the children of God. Not by lineage but by adoption – even to unlikely souls like Magi from the East.
Christmas was for the Jews to whom Christ was born. Epiphany is for the Gentiles, those lately come into the promise of God. Today is for us. His Light shines to beckon you and me – who have no history or heritage, no line or lineage to commend us. All we have is the Light that calls us, gathers us in His presence, enlightens us with His mercy, and sanctifies us in grace. This is no dream or wish. This is truth and power.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star... The Light of this day does not shine with the made up wishes or the silly dreams of a people in love with the moment... The Light of this day does not twinkle with childish fancy or fairy tale endings... No, the Light of this day has power to do battle our enemy Satan for our redemption, to pay the full price for our sin, to restore us lost and fallen as God’s children, to set us apart from our aimless ways for His service, and to shine with its brightness so that those still living in darkness may see Him through you and me.
New Year’s Eve we saw a blue moon that was not blue. When we stare into the night sky, we see the light of stars already gone – only the fading image of their light remains. When we look to the stars, we dream the dreams of fancy and fantasy, but the Light of Christ is real. It shines bright enough to reveal our sin, to redeem us sinners, to restore our loss, to turn aliens into citizens, and heal us of death with eternal life.
We have had enough of light that is not real, of light that cannot over come the darkness... We cannot dream away sin or wish away death. We need a better star and a mightier light. We need the star that led the Magi to Him who is the Light of the world. To the Savior who keeps His promises. The glare of this Light will surely reveal all our sins but to forgive them. It will shine in the darkness to reveal that death is not the end. It will transform the lost and the stranger to be heirs and family of God.
It just don’t get much better than that. It was this that led the Magi – no fairy tale magic in the sky but the promise of the One who to answer their longings, forgive their sins, impart the life stronger than death, and restore their lost image to be sons and daughters of God. Twinkle, twinkle, little star... Star light, star bright... you know the rhymes... The Magi knew the reality... this King and this Light are not the product of our imagination but the answer to our longing. Arise! Shine! For His Light has Come. Enter into His Light, dwell in that Light, shine with this Light... Amen!