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"Finding the Light in the Darkness.

" Matthew 2:1-12

Today we are observing Epiphany. Today is not really the day of Epiphany,
that would be tomorrow, January 6. This marks the end of the twelve days
of Christmas, but Epiphany is more than that. In fact, Epiphany is jammed
packed with significance and meaning. First of all, Epiphany
commemorates the visit of the wise men, which is why this morning we will
be singing one more Christmas carol, “We Three Kings,” even though by
this time, as everybody knows, Christmas is over. Some might wonder why
we are celebrating the visit of the wise men on a later date than on
Christmas Eve, because that’s when all the action took place at the stable.
Actually, it’s a pretty sure bet that the wise men were not there when the
shepherds were. No one really knows, of course, but the wise men may
have made their journey when Jesus was as much as two years old. That
figure is derived at by looking at the rest of the story of the wise men’s visit,
the part which does not show up on Christmas cards. King Herod asked the
wise men when the star appeared and then directed them to go find the
child and to return to him when they had found him, so that he, too, might
go and worship him. When they did not come back, he figured the only way
to eliminate the threat of a new-born king was to have all the babies in
Bethlehem killed, up to two years old, which, perhaps, was when the wise
men told him the star had first appeared. So, maybe, Jesus was two years
old when the wise men visited.

Epiphany is about still more. The word “epiphany” also means a sudden
insight, a revealing, an understanding one did not have before. That relates
to something else about Epiphany - it is a festival of light, symbolized by
the star the wise men followed. Light, of course, is what the Christmas
season, and all of Christianity itself, is all about. The prophet Isaiah said,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who
lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” When the
Gospel of John talks about the coming of Jesus it says, “What has come
into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light
shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

OK, we all know about this. This is not our first church rodeo. We’re old
hands at this, and we’ve heard all this at least a hundred times. Jesus is
the light of the world. But have we considered what that means? Seriously -
what is darkness they are talking about? And, if Jesus is the light of the
world, just how? What does that mean, if it means anything?

Light and darkness. It seems so clear-cut. Darkness is bad, light is good.

We try to avoid darkness as much as possible. So much so that many of us
need a night light because we are afraid to even sleep in total darkness. On
the other hand, the Gospel of John tells us that there are people who
actually prefer darkness to light, because they don’t want the truth of their
lives exposed. Perhaps most concerning are those who are in darkness
and don’t even know it. There are critters, like some fish living in caves,
who have lived in darkness so long they not only don’t know they are in
darkness, they stop even growing eyes. They have no conception of light
and darkness, and eyes would actually be totally useless. Their world is a
world of darkness, but they don’t know it.
I wonder how much like those blind critters we are, living in darkness
without even knowing it?

I suppose there are those who don’t believe in such things as light and
darkness at all. There is just the world, and we live in it, and labeling things
light and darkness just isn’t helpful. Even among people who do believe in
light and darkness there may be no agreement on what happens to be light
and what happens to be darkness. They might say, “What I believe is good,
so it is light, but what you believe is bad, so it is darkness.” If we cannot
even agree on what darkness is, or if it even exists, how can we set about
eliminating it? How can we agree upon where some light needs to shine?

If we are to align ourselves with the Christian faith, we do have to

acknowledge the reality of darkness. Darkness is what we have typically
called evil, and we don’t have to argue about the reality of evil. The Bible is
the story of God’s attempts to deal with the problem of evil in the world. The
coming of Christ is God’s way of telling the world that the problem of evil
has been and is and will be defeated once and for all.
There is yet another reason why we don’t question the reality of darkness,
of evil. We see it all around us. The greatest American theologian of the
last century, Reinhold Neibuhr, said we have to accept a lot of Christianity
on faith, in the absence of proof, but not the reality of evil. All we have to do
is look around. We see it everywhere. We see it, unless we have become
so used to the darkness that we no longer comprehend it.

Some of you will remember Carl Sagan. He was an astronomer, but in

addition to looking outward at the stars he was also a philosopher, looking
inward at ourselves. He wrote a number of very insightful books on a
variety of topics before he died almost twenty-five years. The year after he
died what I suppose was the last of his books was published. It was titled,
“The Demon-Haunted World.” It’s subtitle was, “Science As a Candle in the
Dark.” It was a warning of a kind of future he thought might be coming, one
we might recognize, a future where people chooses darkness over light,
whether they know it or not. In that book Sagan say this:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s

time—when the United States is a service and information economy;
when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to
other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of
a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp
the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas
or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our
crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in
decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true,
we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

He also said,

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been

bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.
We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has
captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that
we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost
never get it back.
I might have just made some of you uncomfortable. You might be thinking,
“Hold on, Mark. You’ve just crossed the line. You’ve went and gotten
political.” Maybe I have, and I have a couple of things to say about that.
First of all, in case you haven’t noticed, the lines between religion and
politics have been officially obliterated. The Johnson Amendment, which
prohibited churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates has
been done away with. The result is that there are thousands and thousands
of American congregations that are this morning hearing sermons that are
very heavily politically partisan, with one political party, or perhaps another,
being painted as God’s own while the other is painted as evil. It is very
much a light and darkness situation - “my party is light, the other is
darkness and must br crushed.” Secondly, how can the Christian faith not
be political? Politics affects the quality of the lives of millions and millions of
people - all people around the world, actually. It affects matters of justice
and warfare and peace. Do we really want to be part of a religion that
decides all those things are off-limits? They certainly weren’t off-limits for
Jesus or the Old Testament prophets. A religion that has no political
concerns is gutless, spineless, and heartless and I certainly don’t want to
be part of a religion like that. Actually, I don’t think people are ever opposed
to hearing about politics in church. They just don’t want to hear anything
that disagrees with their politics.

Having said all that, let me again emphasize what I already have many
times. When I talk about political matters, I pledge to be non-partisan,
meaning I will not take the side of one of our political parties over the other.
I will not be partisan because, first of all, I respect you and your ability to
make your own decisions, which you will insist upon doing regardless of
what I say up here anyway. More importantly, I distrust our whole political
system and I do not believe that either party can be considered the party of
light and the other the party of darkness. I believe there are forces behind
the political process and the political parties, and those forces are powerful
and shrewd enough not to be invested in only one party and not the other.
They cannot take the chance of the American people upsetting their plans
by voting for other than their one party. They must have them both. I also
believe those powers do not have the best interest of our citizens at heart.
So, I will not be partisan because I don’t trust either political party,
regardless of what they say, and I do not believe either one of them is the
party of Jesus. I will continue to vote, I suppose, but for me it will always be
a matter of choosing between what I think is the lesser of two evils. Why
should we not acknowledge that our politics are corrupt? The basic
message of the Christian faith has always been that the whole world is
corrupt and the only solution is through God’s grace and mercy? The Bible
itself tells us, “ Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is
no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth - on that very
day their plans perish.” (Psalm 146:3-5)

What I will also pledge is to do my best to preach the Gospel of Jesus

according to my best understanding in light of the historical stands of the
Christian faith. I pledge that to the best of my ability. I will not simply call my
opinions God’s own and expect you to agree. As best I am able I will
interpret the scripture, relying as much as possible on the words of Jesus
himself. After that it is up to you to do with them as you will.

Having said all that, I think we are immersed in darkness. I think we are in
darkness whenever we substitute the words of anyone or any group for the
word of Jesus. I think we are in darkness when even the church of Jesus
Christ abandons its own standards of righteousness for access to political
power. I think we are in darkness when we tolerate hatred and racism, or
nationalism or any other ism rather than seeking first the kingdom of God
and God’s righteousness, a righteousness that embraces all people of the
world regardless of color or nationality, or even creed, for all people are
God’s people. I think we are in darkness when we try to eliminate our
nation’s commitment to freedom of religion by calling any one religion the
American religion, as if true faith could ever be imposed by the passing of
the right laws. I think we are in darkness when we separate one group of
people, whomever they are, into a place where they do not deserve our
concern for their well-being and respect and equal rights under the law. I
think we are in darkness when we refuse to recognize that the web of life
on earth is in collapse as we make the planet unlivable for future
generations. I think we are in darkness whenever we depend upon military
might as a first resort rather than a last resort. I think we are in darkness
when we surrender or hearts and our minds and our souls themselves to
anyone other than Jesus.
Into the darkness light has shined. It is the light of God’s love made known
to us by a star that l to a baby, and the man that baby would become. That
light can illuminate for us the way to peace and justice and a world where
all people live in the fullness of life as God intended for us. Allowing that
light to shine, and walking within it, may be the only hope this world, and we
ourselves, have.

So let us put aside the ways of darkness. Let us, as the book of 1 John puts
it, “walk in the light as he himself is in the light,” for when we do, “we have
fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us
from all sin.” When that finally happens we will have finally been brought
into contact with nothing less than the heart, and light, of God.