Epiphany is the season of light; light appearing, light bursting forth, light going out. Light shining on Israel (a people who were in darkness) and light shining on the Gentiles (a light to enlighten the world). We’ve been talking about light the past few weeks and how the light of the gospel - the good news - came to Ephesus with Paul, and how it might come to Salem, through us and the others here who are walking with Jesus.
Today is a hinge day, and it’s convenient that Nate+ is gone, because I get to mark the change from talking about the light coming to Salem, which I hope you are getting a taste of how incredible that might be, to talking about a focus on how light guides our pilgrimage.
Being L.I.G.H.T in the Heavy Shadows
Jesus calls his followers to Love, Integrity, Gratitude, Hope, Trust—to be people of LIGHT. Our community will shine the light of Jesus as we walk with others through dark places in life. We'll be light-hearted people, Serving, Healing, Investing, Nurturing, Embracing—people who SHINE. To do this, we will be people who don't just talk about community; we will live it out - in a 100 little ways.
The next few weeks will be sermons on the LIGHT and SHINE(ing) and how we are called to live that out at Crossroads. But today, I get to remind us and ask the question - how does light guide on the pilgrimage?
Everyone of us is on a spiritual journey - we are going somewhere. Some of us don’t realize it, and thus act a little like tourists, walking around looking at shiny things that entertain and distract us. Some of us are trying to figure out where we are going and why - we act more like travelers than tourists. And for those of us who know Jesus and love him, well, we are on a pilgrimage. We have a clear purpose: moving with Jesus and others toward a deeper relationship with God and the Kingdom of God. Each of us has different experiences along the way, each of us is on this unique walk, but we walk the path with others, and invite travelers who we meet to join us and journey toward Jesus. Some do, some don’t - that’s to be expected and not our responsibility (or even ability) to control.
So - this is the question: how does light guide us on our pilgrimage? I find it fascinating that this is the question on this particular feast day, the Presentation of our Lord. I’d like to walk through the readings with you and see what God might be saying to us.
In our first reading from Malachi, we have a promise that the Lord - the leader that they’ve (that we’ve) been waiting for, the messenger of the Covenant will come to the Temple. This will be dramatic - he’ll be powerful, like the fire used to melt metal, like the strongest toughest soap, and he will do his work, vigorously scrubbing the priests clean until they are ready to go back into the temple and present offerings to God. He has to come and clean up his people to restore their proper relationship to God. Notice that the writer describes this as a message from the God of the Angel Armies. Weird.
Then we have the Psalm. This is a stunning picture for us - what a beautiful home God has! It speaks to the Psalmists longing to belong somewhere and be satisfied in a place where he can praise the Lord. And its a tender place, where small, helpless creatures can snuggle in and do their work of singing the song they were made to sing to the God who made them. And then there is this reference to God king of the angel armies. Again - weird. (this is translated in NIV as Lord Almighty).
The middle of this psalm is key I think.
5-7 And how blessed all those in whom you live,
whose lives become roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and
at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!
What if we have it wrong? Or at least partly wrong? The question isn’t - or might not be - where does God live (where - to what place - are we making our pilgrimage), but with whom does God live? What if this middle part of the Psalm is the key? What if we are the home of God? and our lives - the walking through lonesome valleys, discovering cool brooks and springs - what if our lives are the very home of God, the place where he himself walks? God traveled roads. Our lives. And yet, at the end of this section - the last turn - Zion! God in full view. What if that’s what this pilgrimage is?
But look then at the end - I’d rather scrub floors in the house of God than be an honored gust in the house of sin. It sort of sounds like a real/physical place, doesn’t it? Although house of sin - is that a metaphor? Can it be real without being physical? And then look at this last line - it’s all smooth sailing, with God King of the Angel Armies. What is going on with that?
Let’s move to the second reading from Hebrews to see what’s there. Here again is a complex and rich few lines: "It’s logical" that because we are flesh and blood, God himself would put that on to save us from his own flesh - the destruction of that very flesh. By death, he conquered death - in order to be able to die, he first had to become human. I get that (not really, but I’m trying). Then it says that he didn’t do this for angels - a seemingly little aside, but it sticks out to me. God King of the Angel Armies -didn’t become an angel to rescue angels. He became a person to rescue people. Thus when he came before God as a high priest - which was promised in Malachi - he’d be able to do it because he had experienced all the testing and the pain of being human. He was the refiner’s fire, the harshest soap in the place; he was both human (the thing that needed healing) and the instrument of healing - he did the healing.
Then we get to the gospel reading, which might be familiar to you. Mary and Joseph have had a series of remarkable, divine, mysterious experiences with the birth of their son - angels appearing to each of them (God King of the Angel Armies?), Zacharias and Elizabeth and the miraculous birth of John the Baptist (did they call him Baby John? Cousin John? Little Jonny?), rejection from their hometown where there was no room at the inn, strange visitors (shepherds with sightings of angels) and glorious visitors (kings with visions and gifts). And now they are doing something that is routine - but of course its not. Because this is God bursting forth, into the daily rhythms and taking them and us by surprise.
As they bring him to the temple for a special but regular event, they are surprised by the words of simeon:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Mary and Joseph were speechless at his words. Here was an man out of nowhere saying these things - reminding/foretelling Jesus’ parents and those present (and the world, and us!) that This Was It. Malachi was coming true. Jesus was being presented at the Temple - a foreshadowing of what he would ultimately be able to do for us as he was presented as high priest before God, to present us before God. Then you have Anna - who it makes a big deal of her being old (what’s with all the old women in Scripture, anyway?) and you have jesus going away from the Temple and growing up.
All very interesting, right? I hope your head is spinning because mine is just trying to absorb this all. What exactly is going on here and what does any of this have to do with light shining on the journey, on our pilgrimage?
I think at least some of it is this: Jesus SHINES the light (he was our example, he completed the work we could not, he restored us to God, he does the work which we are to do) and He IS the light. He lives. He walks with us. He makes his home in our lives. We are not alone, and we are not powerless.
That’s the light that Jesus is, and that’s our calling to shine.