The season of Epiphany, which we are celebrating now until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, is the season of light, illumination, and enlightenment. The season starts with the star of Bethlehem, which leads the magi to the newborn king Jesus; at Jesus’ baptism, his special relationship to God is proclaimed to all, and the gospel stories for today and the next few weeks to come talk about various aha moments people have as they encounter Jesus. People see the light. And people see and discover who Jesus is – the son of God, sent to bring salvation to God’s people. This is the season, when we celebrate the light and how it reveals God’s glory among us. The motto for the Epiphany season could be: step out into the light! Be open to epiphanies! Live in the light!
And offhand, that sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to live in the light of God, basking in God’s glory and love and grace? We need the light, we crave the light. Just think about it for a moment: What does light mean to you? What do you associate with the word light? Brightness, warmth, growth?
This is a wonderful invitation: Live in the light. God wants us. God wants us to be part of the light.
But then, living in the light also potentially has its setbacks. Can you think of any? And so, when we hear the invitation, live in the light, I think we may be aware that this also means being in the spotlight. Whenever we live in the light, we are visible; really visible. Out there. I mean, we see it with celebrities. Of course they try to show their glamorous side. But then we probably have all seen the headlines and images as we wait in the checkout line at the supermarket, the tabloids with the less flattering pictures of stars and starlets, candid shots showing them in compromising situations. Paparazzi make a living of catching celebs in not so flattering situations. In the end, nobody is perfect. And in the light, the spotlight, our strengths – and our weaknesses – come to light.
And is it only me feeling a little uncomfortable thinking about that part of living in the light? I get nervous because I know I’m not perfect. I have my weaknesses. And all of me is out there in the open. And I am amazed that God still somehow has a use for me.
So the invitation to live in the light has a disclaimer attached to it: warning, living in the light, you will be seen! Be prepared to show yourself, warts and all. Although we still probably would like to hide all those things, which we don’t necessarily like about ourselves, the things that are not as perfect as we would like them to be. And yet: God calls us to live in the light, to be light. God knows our weaknesses. And yet God invites us to be part of God’s light and glory. We don’t need to hide. For we have been bought with a price.
Now as much as we’d rather hide some of our blemishes, our weaknesses and keep them in dark or shady corners of our existence, so to speak, of course there are many issues that society at large that many would like to keep out of the light, hidden, ignored. Or sometimes there are things that are out there, in the light, right in front of our eyes, and we still try to avert our eyes, look away, or pretend we don’t see, pretend things don’t concern us However, if we take that invitation to ‘live in the light’ seriously, we are also invited to come and see. Come and see. See what’s going on around you, even if it makes you uncomfortable, even if you don’t like it. Seeing is part of living in the light.
Come – and see. We hear these words in today’s gospel. The gospel according to John, from which it is taken, tells the story of the calling of the first disciples a little differently. And so we have this interesting bit of Philip, freshly called by Jesus, inviting someone else to follow Jesus. Philip invites Nathanael, and is all excited, we’ve found the promised one, Jesus of Nazareth! Nathanael is invited to live in the light. But what is his first response? Skepticism. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Apparently Nazareth didn’t have the best reputation back in the day.
Nathanael’s judgment is clouded by prejudice. Ugh, Nazareth, what good could that be? His first reaction is not to take a closer look, but to dismiss. But fortunately Philip is persistent enough to urge him: give it a chance; come and see! And Nathanael, a little reluctant, though, comes and sees. It is because of his openness to open his eyes, to look beyond his prejudices, that he can truly see who Jesus is – and thus live in the light.
Tomorrow we will observe Martin Luther King Junior Day. Dr. King was elementary in bringing things to light, to drag the injustices against people of color other than white out of the shadows and into the open. By standing up against blatant oppression, he put himself in the spotlight, and put the plight of especially the African American population into the spotlight. And we all know that, as he was in the spotlight, he presented himself as an easy target for hatred. But what Sr. King did was to say, come and see! Come and see how much suffering there is because human beings are treated differently. Overcome your prejudices – look beyond someone’s skin color or origin, and make an effort to truly get to know the person. For we all were created in God’s image. We are all children of God.
And in his famous speech at the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963, the speech we know as ‘I have a dream’, he invited the audience, the country, and the world to not just accept a harsh reality, but to rather see what is possible. And, not surprisingly, King uses the language and symbolism of light and darkness. He famously said, “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.’ His dream was more than a fantasy; his dream was a vision of an end to discrimination and injustice, and a vision of equality. Come and see. Come, live in the light.
Now recent events in this country have brought to light, have shown, that we still need to do a lot of hard work to overcome racial prejudices and tensions; black and white together. We are still not a perfect society, many still experience discrimination and injustice, even though King’s dream has set actions in motion which have led to more justice and equality for all. Things have gotten better since the 1960s, but they need to get better yet. If things are not brought to light, they cannot be seen; things which are not right, things which are not right in the eyes of God, cannot be changed if we don’t see them. We have to continue to have this dream. We mustn’t cease dreaming. And we all know that there are folks out there who express their dream, maybe with means not everybody agrees with – there were many BART commuters, for example, who were not happy with the disruption of service as demonstrators blocked some downtown stations last Friday. However, I think we all agree that such actions bring to light the cry for justice, the desperate dream for true equality. We can’t ignore these issues, and it’s very hard to look away. It’s hard to pretend that these issues don’t concern us. They do.
And so, today, the call to come, and live in the light, and to come, and see, is ringing loud and clear for all of us. We are all called to step out into the light, into God’s light, and to see; and there are many things that many of us try not to see, and try to ignore. We know that there are people and issues out there we rather not deal with. I think we all know that there are things and people out there we’d rather not see. Like the issues related to homelessness we encounter in the neighborhood of our church home, St. Matthew’s. And, and, and…
We are called to cast a second or third look at things that we think we’ve figured out by merely glancing at them. We are called to cast our prejudices aside and give others – and ourselves – another chance. What good can come out of Nazareth? We are called to look and look again and see and discover the brother, the sister, a fellow beloved child of God, in every person we encounter. Think that’s tough? Well, nobody said that following Christ would be easy.
So: Come, live in the light! You are beloved and redeemed and part of God’s glory! And then: Come and see that we treat certain people in society with much less respect and dignity than they deserve as beloved children of God. Come and see that we are torturing this planet, the world God created so lovingly for us. Come and see that there is brokenness all around us. Come and see and acknowledge that there is brokenness in you. Come and see and acknowledge and have a dream to change what is wrong. Dare to have a vision, and to live towards it. Bring the light and glory of God to all of God’s beloved creation.
So come and see! Live in the light! Amen
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