Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Epiphany of our Lord - Isaiah 60 (and thank you Father Marc!)

(windows media audio download link here)


Darkness covers the earth. Thick darkness. You lay in your bed. Uncertain. Cold. What is this eclipse? What is this heavy shadow?

You stumble around your house, banging your toes and cursing every piece of furniture you’ve ever bought. You reach for the light switch. Click. Nothing. You look to the windows, thinking there ought to be moonlight, but you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. No microwave clock. No blinking light on the fire alarms. Nothing. Groping, you find the book of matches and emergency candles. You strike one. Nothing. You strike another. You hear the snap and flash of phosophorous, feel the heat, but you see nothing. The world is covered in darkness. Thick darkness.

Such darkness cannot be ignored. It blinds you. It smothers you. It buries you alive. The plants wither and die. The people huddle in corners, frightened, uncertain, wondering why and how this great plague has come. Despair is the song of the darkness. Fear is the strength of the darkness. Ruthless is the heart of this darkness.

And sitting in this darkness, more and more goes by unnoticed. The killing of others so that we might live. The stealing from others so that we might have. The abusing of others because I’m going to get mine, and it’s me against the darkness, so stay out of my way. It is the chaos and hate of deep and unending twilight. Have you lived in this darkness? Can you feel this darkness?

And if the image I paint for you were true…think…how would you live? What would you do? What wouldn’t you do to stay alive when you found that there wasn’t enough food to go around, that there wasn’t enough heat to go around, that it was kill or be killed, have or be had, dog eat dog and man eat man?

No sun, no moon, no stars, no light. A land plunged into neverending darkness. They call it earth, and it already is your home. What would you do? What haven’t you done? Who haven’t you hurt and abused so that you can get yours, so that the darkness doesn’t get you? How much have you befriended the darkness, become a part of it, given your heart to it, in order to survive?

Do you call that survival? Do you call the darkness your light?

But let us return to our fantastic image of a pitch black world, without star or moon, without even fire or spark. Let us imagine ourselves in this valley of the shadows. Let us think how the horror would grip our every waking hour…and then…let me ask you…what would you do…what would you do if in that deep, buried world, you heard a word on the street…you heard a rumor from the mists…you heard a story from others in the shadows… the legend of a city, a city on a mountain, a city on a mountain in a sea of darkness where there was no more darkness but true and living light!?

What would you pay? What wouldn’t you do to reach that city? To find that living? To make your hard and wearied way out of the valley of the shadows and into the rising of the Son that knows no setting? What wouldn’t you give? What could you ever hold back if you knew that there was hope to see again, to feel, to really live, to truly love outside the darkness, in the light of eternal Day.

This is what we remember today, the day we commemorate the Epiphany of our Christ. On this day, we remember a day long ago, a true day, full of real light, when magi from the far east made there way out of their pagan darkness, their godless religions of empty ritual and cabalistic spiritism, of horoscopes and reading of the bowels of dead chickens – they made their dry and weary way out of that darkness, through dangers and perils unknown and untold, in order to fall at the feet of a child. This was because, like you and I, those magi knew the darkness all too well, and, Lord have mercy, they wanted out.

And there, in Jesus Christ, in his person, in his body, the creator of the universe had sent a tabernacle, a tent, a resting place for the glorious light of deity to come into the darkness and get man out. Oh, how wonderfully Isaiah the mighty seer foresaw that great day when he heralded it’s coming time and time before by saying, “the nations lift their eyes from the morbid darkness in which they dwelt without rest; and behold! A light far off but coming. A holy mountain on which God dwells with man again! A haven, a rescue, a place of refuge. And see how the people weep with joy. Look how they come with long awaited yearning. Their sons run. Their young daughters are carried on their shoulders, as in lines and lines of caravans the refugees from the darkness forsake all they knew, all they had, all that in the darkness faded like sunset in behind painful shadows of futility – they leave it all in order to be in the light now and at last.”

Nothing can stop them, nor the Spirit which drives them. All that strives to impede them and stand in their way are indeed mere shadows and whisps of would-be which bleed into the nothingness that is left behind. For these people, blessed of God, see the holy city. They see the Church, and in her midst, as her heart, beaming with a glory original and all his own, the Lord himself is their light – the man, Jesus Christ, high and lifted up, drawing all men to himself, pouring out essential radiance, essential righteousness, essential life upon them. They bathe in him. They eat and drink from him, from his cross. They thrill and exult continually before him, awash in the praises of the Lord.

Like the pillar of fire which went before the people of God of old through desert wastes, the Lamb at the center, even now, is light for we who sojourn in the gloom of this present age. And though he sits on high, you know as well as I by now, that he gives us here, in this place, his own majestic activity: his Word: a lamp to our feet and light to our path. His water: a river of life which flows from a fountain of glimmering eternity. His flesh and blood: the Lamb of God who was slain, and behold, he lives forever in order to take away the sins of the world.

Dear people, what a day to remember and see again this great light. The tomb is empty. The Church has been sent. And she carries the Word which endures for the purpose letting you see to live again.

Will you walk out of these doors then, and in haste forget the light you have seen? Will you, like a fool, turn your back on the beacon of our Holy City? Will you sever yourself from the assembly of the forgiven? Will you make of yourself nothing but a mere pretender, who says, “Ah yes, I see, I see,” but meanwhile meanders on under the inky pall of unbelief, and therefore even teaches your own children to do likewise? Do you think you can live in light and love the darkness?

There is no fellowship between light and darkness, for light by its nature is the destruction of darkness, and darkness by its nature is nothing but the absence of glorious light. You may have everything, or you may have nothing, but you cannot have both. And look, the city of God is before your eyes. And at her heart, as her body, the man Jesus Christ. Here the light is more free than that of the sun or the stars, and the majesty we receive in his own gifts shall not fade with the setting of this world, but endures everlasting in the next. Here heart, and mind and body are warmed by the shining of the Son of the Living God.

The world dwells in tents which burst open and collapse with every strong wind of teaching. But here we find fortified walls made of jasper and glimmering amethyst, beaming with brightness that cannot be hidden. The world trembles with starvation and wanders in search of any porridge to stop the belly’s rumbling. But here there is bread without price, and milk and honey without cost. Here the tree of life bears fruit in season, and there is never heart that will not be fed. The world is cold, uncovered, and futile to the final bitter breath. But here, God has spread himself over us. He has dwelt with us, his people. And he has pointed us in the Spirit to that day not too far off where this Jerusalem will burst forth like lightning from the heavens, and all that we have believed here in the promises of God will be revealed for the world…even as the child, Jesus Christ, was revealed by a star to the nations who had for so long been looking for him.

Epiphany means revealing. And from here until Lent we will see in text and word and song that the finding of the child savior by the magi was but the first of the many epiphanies of our Lord as he manifested his light to the world. At Christmas God appeared a man. Now we will see a man reveal to us that he is God, that hanging a new star in the sky was only a foretaste of the prophet’s words: Arise, and shine. Your light has come.”

In the Name…

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