A Spirit of Trust
Your Strength

Your Light

Your Light

Isaiah 60:1-6, 11; Psalm 67; 2 Timothy 1:5-10; Matthew 2:1-12

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

2 January 2022

            “The ‘star’ serves as [a] physical marker of a new outpouring of heavenly light,” writes William J. Danaher in his commentary on this passage.  The star the magi followed is a symbol, a metaphor of the new revelation God is giving to humanity.  And in this particular story from Matthew, what is revealed is the baby Jesus.  In this child, God is doing something new and marvelous.

            On this Second Sunday after Christmas, we are looking ahead to the Feast of the Epiphany. The traditional day for celebrating the dawning of the revelation of what God is doing with the incarnation of Jesus. 

            I had a church member in Oklahoma City, a retired Methodist minister, who summarized his spiritual practice as every day trying to experience an epiphany and a resurrection.  A pretty good resolution, if you are still looking for one.  An epiphany being a new idea, a new understanding, new wisdom to be gained.  Often experienced with the sudden breaking in of light, realization, attention, or delight.  Like the light bulb going off in the cartoon bubble above our heads. 

            So, for us, Epiphany as a season of worship isn’t just about remembering the stories of the Bible, but also realizing that new understandings, new revelations, are a part of our life as well.  Like the daughters of Jerusalem, God’s light can dawn upon us, radiating with God’s glory.  This Epiphany season, then, we are going to Arise and Shine.

            To help us experience our own spiritual epiphanies, we are going to draw upon a new resource—Wilda Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church.  This new book, which will ultimately be four volumes, curates a new set of weekly readings that center the experiences of women in the Bible, often drawing upon stories and texts left out of the traditional lectionaries.  Gafney has coupled those selections with new translations that are gender-expansive, and she provides her own notes to each week highlighting the themes that connect the readings.

            She begins her Introduction with some important questions:

What does it look like to tell the Good News through the stories of women who are often on the margins of scripture and often set up to represent bad news?  How would a lectionary centering women’s stories, chosen with womanist and feminist commitments in mind, frame the presentation of the scriptures for proclamation and teaching?  How is the story of God told when stories of women’s brutalization and marginalization are moved from the margins of the canon and lectionary and held in the center in tension with stories of biblical heroines and heroes?  More simply, what would it look like if women built a lectionary focusing on women’s stories? 

            I suspect that exploring those questions will yield new insights.  Which is exactly what the Season of Epiphany is supposed to be about. 

            And so today, Gafney presents us some texts that are traditionally connected with Epiphany, while inviting us to see them in a new light.

            The Isaiah passage is quite familiar to you—“Arise, shine, for your light has come.”  Gafney’s innovation is to make this passage explicitly addressed to the daughters of Zion.  The daughters of Zion are a familiar image in the Hebrew prophetic literature, and Zion itself is often represented as feminine.  So Gafney intends to provoke our imaginations in new ways by translating “Arise, daughter; shine, daughter; for your light has come daughter.”  We are invited to ask ourselves—In what ways do our daughters reveal the glory of God?

            The Psalm, which praises God for providing the blessings of the Earth, takes on a new light of maternal care and provision, with an emphasis on fertility—“The earth has brought forth her increase; may God, our own God, give us her blessing.  May God give us her blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of her.”

            Not much in changed in the passage from Second Timothy, a passage that has always celebrated grandmother Lois and mother Eunice for passing along the faith to Timothy.  But maybe we see it in a new light when we draw out the connections to Isaiah and the Psalm.  Lois and Eunice are daughters of Zion.  They are agents of God’s glory.  Their faith shines through them.  And, like God, they bear fruit.  They provide, they care, they teach.  They are powerful, and that power is in their love, just like it is for God.

I was drawn anew to the line “I remind you to reignite the gift of God that is within you.”  This idea is a thread connecting all of these Epiphany readings.

So when we get to the familiar Matthew passage about the magi visiting the promised child of Bethlehem, we can see even that with new eyes.  While it’s a story about the baby Jesus, the Christmas stories always invite us to image the ways that the Christ can be born anew in us.  We can read this story as reminding us that no matter where we are born, no matter our circumstances, no matter how dangerous the world we live, we too can be an agent of God’s glory and power.  And if we do approach the story this way, it can reignite the gift of God that is within each of us.   Exactly what we want this Feast of the Epiphany.

The Catholic feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson, in her beautiful book Quest for the Living God describes God in a way that resonates with today’s Psalm—“The holy mystery of God is . . . a living fecundity of relational life that overflows to the world.”  That’s really just a fancy way of saying “God is love,” but I think it’s such a rich and exciting description of God that has the potential to reorder our imaginations.  We are so often tempted to see God as remote and distant, as a bearded old man riding the clouds.  So how might our spirituality and our interactions with the world change if we always thought of God as “a living fecundity of relational life that overflows to the world?” 

And that love and power overflow into us, making us radiate.  Arise and shine for “the glory of God has risen upon you.”  We are filled with divine relational, maternal power.  Power of fertility, blessing, love, and care.  And God is using that power to reorder the world, to do new things.

Elizabeth Johnson writes, “The glory of god is the communion of all things fully alive.”  Isn’t that a wonderful idea!  “The glory of god is the communion of all things fully alive.”  The glory of God, that shines in us and through us, connects us to the flourishing of all living things.

She then elaborates:

Wherever the human heart is healed,
justice gains a foothold,
peace holds sway,
an ecological habitat is protected,

wherever liberation, hope and healing break through,

wherever an act of simple kindness is done,
a cup of cool water given,
a book offered to a child thirsty for learning,

there the human and earth community already reflect,

in fragments,

the visage of the trinitarian God.

            The gift of God is within each one of us.  And God’s love appears in every act of kindness and care we show to one another.

            This Season of Epiphany, we are invited to open our imaginations to new revelations.  To let the light of God awaken within us, and fill us with divine power and glory.  The power of God’s love, which will flow through us with blessing, for ourselves, and the flourishing of all life. 

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