January 6, 2019

Sunday of Epiphany 

Matthew 2:1-12
Isaiah 60:1-6


When I was in Wellington Regional Mission in WA South West, I used to do a service in Donnybrook. The service was always in the afternoon because I usually did a service in Collie in the morning. It was a small community of faith, comprised only of five or six people. But, I’m not going to tell you the story about the faith community in Donnybrook. I would like to tell the story of what happened on my way back home from Donnybrook.

I was driving home after doing my first ever service in Donnybrook. It was already dark and there were three passengers with me in the car. I was travelling at 100 km/h on 110 km/h speed zone when I saw a kangaroo on the left-hand side of the road. It was quite a big one.

As if on cue, instead of jumping away from the car, the kangaroo jumped right onto the road into our lane. A collision was unavoidable.

I remember being told not to swerve to avoid animals on the road, so I hit the kangaroo head on. I only had a few seconds to slow the car to minimize the impact. 

But the damage caused to my car was still significant. The collision damaged the front part of my car and I had to call the tow truck to pick up my car. The repair bill was $8000 and luckily it was all covered by my car insurance. Most importantly, none of us, me and my three passengers, was injured. We were a bit shocked, but it became an experience of a lifetime that we would not forget.

Friends, animals, like kangaroos, are often gravitated towards light. The flies who often invade my house in Summer always fly into the brightest room in our house. The most dangerous time for animals in the wild is night time. In the dark, they cannot see their predators.

In nature, light often equals life. Light means safety, even food. That’s why we, humans, like other animals, often are also gravitated to light.

This natural tendency towards light extends into our spiritual life too. People who are near death often say that they see a light that seems to invite them to come towards it. Receiving light or living in the light also means spiritual awakening in other religious traditions. For example, in Buddhism, the aim of their spirituality is to be enlightened. 

Light is also an important aspect in our Christian tradition. We too are called to follow the divine light, just like the wise men followed the star that guided them to Jesus.

But how do we know that we are following the right light? How do we know that, like the kangaroo that I hit, we are not following the light that will lead us to our demise? (The kangaroo didn’t die by the way. We didn’t see its body. It may be badly injured, but it ran away after being hit. What a tough animal.)

Let me answer the questions by giving you four signs that tell us that we are following the right kind of light.

The first one is that following the right light, God’s light, will fill us with joy.

When I was a child, having a power out in our neighborhood was a common thing. It could be fun. It opened up a new world. We played games that could only be played in darkness, like making shadow puppets. We would light candles and tell horror stories or jokes to one another or have a sing along.

But after a while, it got boring. We would then wait and wait and wait for the power to return. And when it did, everyone in our house, and in neighborhood, would shout in joy (we could actually hear the neighbor’s exclaiming in joy). Everyone was joyful.

Being touched by God’s light is the same; it makes us joyful.

The second sign is humility. Following and encountering God’s light will make us humble.

We see this in the wise men from the East who visited Jesus. These men were no kings. (The popular carol, We Three Kings, thus must be sung with great caution as it is not entirely biblical). They were magi or, in our modern language, astrologers. They came from the Kingdom of Persia and were experts in reading the stars and interpreting dreams. They were well known for their fortune telling and horoscopes. While such occupation may be considered as marginal in our time, they were seen as the scholars of ancient time.[1] 

But these scholars, these experts of ancient time, were down on their knees when they saw the child, Jesus. God’s light exposed their pride and it exposes ours. It reminds us of who is the true ruler of the world and of our life. It will put the acknowledgement of God’s kingship on our lips and in our hearts.

God’s light also exposes the dark corners of our life. It shines light on those corners that we try to forget or ignore or hide from other people. It reminds us that we are as broken as everyone else and we need help just like others.

The third sign relates to God’s kingship. Being exposed to God’s light will make us want to give offering to God, the king and ruler of the world. 

Again, we see this sign in the wise men who visited Jesus. The gifts that they gave to Jesus were not cheap. Gold was long associated with the gods and was the sign of kingship. Frankincense was a costly incense and the sign of wisdom. Myrrh was a prized perfume and was the sign of long life and healing. All three were usually gifts given to a king or to someone with a high status.[2] 

The wise men knew that the child Jesus deserved the best gifts that wealth could purchase in ancient time. Likewise, when we encounter the light of the child of Bethlehem, we too will want to offer what we have. It doesn’t mean that we are to offer the most expensive items that money can buy. It means that we are to offer the very best of our life. 

The fourth sign of encountering God’s light in our life is that we will reflect the light in our life ourselves. 

We see this in our reading from Isaiah. Instead of the wise men bringing gifts to Jesus, other nations brought gifts to Israel in Isaiah’s prophecy. Does that mean that Israel would replace God as the light of the world? Or does it mean that other nations would become vassal states of Israel? The answer to these questions is no and no.

Other nations came to Israel because Israel had reflected God’s light. Israel was not the source of light; she never was. God remained the only source of light in the world.

But Israel now mirrored God’s light in their life. As such, Israel would become the beacon in the dark world.

May we too live our life so much so that others will encounter the light of Bethlehem. May we too live our life so much so that others will be filled with joy. May we too live our life so much so that others will humble themselves in the presence of the child, Jesus. May we too live our life so much so that others will be willing to share their very best to the Lord of the universe. May we too live our life so much so that others too will start sharing the light that leads them out of darkness.

These are the four signs that help us know that we are heading in the right direction. If you see these four signs in your life, rest assured that you are not being led astray. Continue following that light until you finally find the fullness of life in Jesus. Amen.

Toby Keva

[1] Niveen Sarras, Commentary on Matthew 2:1-12, on www.workingpreacher.org (January 6, 2019).

 [2] Niveen Sarras, Commentary on Matthew 2:1-12, on www.workingpreacher.org (January 6, 2019).