Epiphany: The Gift of Light
This morning our Scripture comes from John 1:1-5, 10-14. Please follow along as I read.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
May our hearts and lives be blessed by the reading of the Word.
We have celebrated during this season of Christmas, and now Christmas has ended.
On Christmas Eve, I passed by a Christmas tree lot and noticed that none of the trees were standing tall and straight. Stretched out on the ground, they resembled fallen soldiers on a battlefield. I removed our tree from the house on the December 31.
On New Year’s Day our in-town children and grandchildren came to eat the traditional fare of pork chops, black-eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread.
As soon as our three-year-old grandson walked into the living room, he asked, “PK, where is the tree?”
I said, “It’s gone. Christmas is over.”
He pleaded, “PK, please leave the tree up in the gazebo.”
He, as well as Clare, wants that tree left there for a few more days. It will come down eventually, but now the majority rules. We have left the Moravian star hanging on our front porch. It is appropriate to leave it through January 6. I have a feeling it will remain there a bit longer than that this year.
England found a way to extend the Christmas season with the twelve days of Christmas, which begin December 26 and end January 6. Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. If your true love has given you all of the gifts prescribed in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” you now have in your house 168 new birds – partridges, geese, and turtle doves. I doubt that many of you followed those instructions.
The church, too, had a way of extending the Christmas season. The Eastern Church actually celebrates Christmas Day today, two weeks after December 25. We in the Western Church, however, recognize January 6 as the day of Epiphany, a word that means manifestation. Western Christians commemorate the visit of the Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation. Most of all we remember the light of Jesus’ coming into the world, explained in the Gospel of John.
In Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, we read the Creation story:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.
3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
When we come to our Scripture text for this morning, we hear an echo of the Creation event. John begins his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word,” the logos, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Note that the Holy Spirit was present with God from the very beginning. The Holy Spirit has always been a part of this world.
Who is this “Word”? It is none other than Jesus. He, too, was with God from the beginning. John went on to say, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).
Light, God’s gift from the beginning of creation, is a unique gift in our Christian experience. It is the incarnate light of God through Christ Jesus. John wrote in Verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” We have seen the radiance and luminescence of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Charles Townsend, a graduate of Furman University, is credited with discovering the laser, a powerful use of highly focused light. Laser light is used in eye surgery to remove cataracts, surgery that many of you have had.
Light has incredible power. We see this enormous power reflected in the life of Jesus during an experience on top of Mount Tabor with his inner circle – Peter, James, and John. There he was transfigured. He became radiant before their very eyes. It was there that God reaffirmed Jesus: “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). The word transfigured occurs in this passage and only one other time in the New Testament. In Romans 12:2 Paul instructed, “Do not be conformed to this world. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold, but be transformed.” Transformation and transfiguration have the same meaning. We are to be transfigured in the same way that Jesus was. That is to say that we are to become a powerful source of light.
On New Year’s Eve a member of the church sent me a poem written by Minnie Louise Harkins. I want to read just a few lines of the poem about the end of the year, about guiding light.
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!” So I went forth and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of the day in the lone East. So heart, but still.
Jesus declared in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As Christians, we are to follow the light of Jesus. How are we to do that?
One night a terrible blizzard hit Kansas. The father of a family, sick with the flu, said to his twelve-year-old son, “I want you to go out to the barn and feed the livestock. It is a very cold night, but they need to be fed.”
Worried, the son asked, “How do I do that?”
The father explained, “You will find a lantern by the backdoor. Light it and carry it with you out to the barn.”
The boy bundled up in warm clothing to guard against the cold. He lit the lantern, opened the back door, and stepped outside. Even when he held the lantern high, he could not see the barn. He returned to his father and said, “Dad, I cannot see the barn.”
The father encouraged, “Son, you don’t have to see the barn. All you have to do is see the first step along the way. Just take one step into the light and keep stepping into the light. The path will lead you to the barn.”
We are to live the Christian life in the same way. We cannot see all the way to the end. We cannot see to December. We cannot even see to June or July. All we can see is right now, but the light of Jesus can lead us step-by-step. Walking this Christian life means that we keep stepping into the light, we keep following the light of Jesus.
Jesus declared that he was the light of the world, but he also told his disciples that they were the light of the world. How can that be? How can both Jesus and we be the light of the world? In the same way that the planets rotate around the sun and reflect its light, Christians reflect the light of Christ. Our focus is in the Son, Jesus. Our reflected light serves to guide others toward Christ. Our light serves to guide others in the right way.
In the state of Georgia, one railroad crossing was particularly hazardous. A large number of accidents had occurred where a main highway intersected the main railroad line. The crossing, however, was not marked in any way except with a sign. The railroad decided to post a flagman to be on duty at all times.
One foggy and rainy night a train approached the crossing just as a car drove over the tracks. The two collided, killing a family of five people – mother, father, and three children.
During the investigation, a lawyer asked the flagman on the witness stand, “Were you on duty the night of the accident?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Did you hear the train coming?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Did you step into the intersection and hold your lantern high?”
“Yes, I did.”
The lawyer said, “No further questions.”
Years later a newspaper reporter started investigating this same accident. He found this flagman, now an old man, in a nursing home. The reporter went to see him and repeated the questions the lawyer had asked years ago.
“You were there at the crossing that night?”
“You heard the train coming?”
“You stepped into the intersection?”
“You held your lantern high?”
Perplexed, the reporter asked, “How could that accident have occurred?”
The flagman said, “That lawyer years ago never asked me if my lantern had been lighted.”
You must shine your light so that others will be saved.
As we go into the new year, what is our foremost responsibility as a church? Jesus gave us the Great Commission, telling us to go into all the world and make disciples. He called us to be the light of the world, reflecting his light.
God has given us the gift of light, fully revealed in the face of Jesus. Now that we have received that gift, we must in turn become the light to others. We have celebrated the gift of light through the Christmas season. Now it is our responsibility in this new year to become the light of the world.
We begin this year by gathering around this table. Taking these elements reminds us of our commitment to Christ, reminds us of what Christ has done for us, and reminds us to recommit ourselves to him.
This is not Morningside’s table. This is not a Baptist table. This is the Lord’s Table. Anyone who professes Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior is invited to take part in the Lord’s Supper. Let’s now receive the Supper.
On the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. He blessed it, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.”
Prayer of Blessing for the Bread: Lord, you are our light. May we focus on you now and forevermore. May we be mindful of the sacrifice that was made for us who are not worthy. As we take this bread, let it remind us that we are to be your light on this earth. For it is in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Open my eyes, that I may see Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me. Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready, my God, Thy will to see. Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Jesus said, “This bread is my body, given for you.” Eat it as often as you eat it in remembrance of him. Eat all of it.
Prayer of Blessing for the Cup: Dear Lord, may we remember every day what you have done for us. You have covered the world with your blood so that we can come to you without blemish as your children. Help us to be mindful of the great sacrifice you made voluntarily. Thank you, Lord, for your great love.
Open my heart and let me prepare Light with Thy children thus to share. Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready, my God, Thy will to see. Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Jesus said, “This cup is my blood, given for you.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink all of it.
Worshipping in a different place with all of you this Sunday morning makes me keenly aware of Christians worshipping around the world. Many are worshipping in places far less desirable, worshipping in secret locations because they are afraid of persecution, worshipping in thatched huts or in buildings that have been bombed.
We join together with Christians around the world when we take the Lord’s Supper, making a re-commitment to be light in this world of darkness. Christ Jesus has incredible optimism to entrust to you with this wonderful mission.
It may be that you have decided today to rededicate your life. If so, you can make a prayer of rededication right where you are. Those of you who are not Christians have never made a decision to accept Christ. If that is your situation, this is a good day to take the Lord as your Savior. We extend these invitations to you on behalf of our Lord Jesus Christ.Kirk H. Neely © January 2013