Sermon preached January 2, 2011
Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Once upon a time, a kind and beautiful queen gave birth to a lovely daughter whose complexion was fair, whose cheeks were rosy and whose hair was a beautiful black. She was named Little Snow White. Unfortunately, the queen died, and after a time, her husband, the king, married another.
This woman, too, was beautiful, but on the outside only. Inside she was so proud and haughty that she could not bear to be surpassed in beauty by anyone. She possessed a wonderful mirror which could answer her when she stood before it and said-
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who is the fairest of all?" The mirror answered-
"You, O Queen, are the fairest of all," and the Queen was contented, because she knew the mirror could speak nothing but the truth. But as time passed on, Little Snow-White grew more and more beautiful, until when she was seven years old, she was as lovely as the bright day, and still more lovely than the Queen herself, so that when the lady one day asked her mirror- "Mirror, mirror upon the wall, Who is the fairest fair of all?"
it answered- "O Lady Queen, though fair you be, Snow-White is fairer far to see."
The Queen was horrified, and from that moment envy and pride grew in her heart like rank weeds.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage. "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the greatest king of all?” “Powerful, Herod, are you now, but another light has come to call!” Herod, like the vain Queen in Snow White, is horrified, and envy and anxiety would grow in his heart like rank weeds. We read more of that sad story last Sunday. Here we have only the beginnings of Herod’s scheming.
And the focus here is less on Herod than on this new life, the new birth, Jesus. A light has come into the world. This light has never been completely absent. God never abandons the world, but the good news of Christian faith is that in Jesus, the light of God shines with a particular brightness.
Like the wise men, we are drawn to this light. Christians are those who see the light of God shine brightest in Jesus the Christ. He is our good news. His light illumines our lives, giving us hope, showing us a way, energizing us.
We see the light of Christ. We meet him and we encounter the light. Like the wise men, we see the light of Christ and return to our lives – “they left for their own country by another road.” Our lives go on, but we are changed by our encounter with the light. The poet T. S. Eliot helps put this into words with two of his poems. He wrote a poem inspired by this Bible story called “The Journey of the Magi” in which he penned these lines: We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,/but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,/with an alien people clutching their gods. We encounter the light, and we are changed, sometimes uncomfortable in the world – uncomfortable with hunger and violence and injustice and cruelty and indifference. In another of his poems, Eliot helps me understand this change in our lives because we have encountered the light of Christ. “Little Gidding”: With the drawing of the Love and the voice of this Calling//We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time. In the light of Christ we can see our lives and the world more truthfully.
The wise men followed a light, encountered the light of Christ, and returned to their own country a different way, made different by their encounter with the light of Christ. They carried some of that light back with them, inside of them.
Christians are those who see the light of God shine brightest in Jesus the Christ. He is our good news. While one part of Christian faith and life is to proclaim where we have encountered light and love and life – that is, in Jesus, another part of Christian faith and life is to claim our light, let our light shine, let Christ shine in us and through us. “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Again, an Eliot poem helps me put words to this. Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow. (Chorus X from “The Rock”) We have light within, sometimes dappled with shadow, but we have light to share with the world.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who shines brightest of them all? Jesus shines brightest as we see, but shines his light through you and me.
Lisel Mueller writes this lovely poem about the light of the sky pouring itself into her some mornings. She goes on: But the plot/calls for me to live,/be ordinary, say nothing/to anyone. Inside the house/the mirrors burn when I pass. (“There Are Mornings”) When we see ourselves as Jesus sees us, as God creates us, even as we live our ordinary lives, the mirrors burn when we pass – mirror, mirror on the wall.
Abbot Lot went to see Abbot Joseph. ”Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of bad thoughts: now what more should I do? Joseph rose up in reply, stretched out his hands to the heavens, and his fingers became lamps of fire. He said, “Why not become all flame?” (in Kathleen Norris, Dakota, 123. From Thomas Merton, Wisdom of the Desert Fathers)
We carry light within to light the world a little bit. We carry within the light of kindness, the light of caring, the light of compassion, the light of forgiveness, the light of joy, the light of peace, the light of love. We have encountered the light in Christ, and we are different. Our lights are kindled. The mirrors burn when we pass. Why not become all flame?
Last Christmas music story for this season. Since we have a long Christmas music season at my house, I try and scope out some new music each year, stuff that I might particularly like. This year I discovered a beautiful Christmas song written and sung by Sheryl Crow – “There is a Star That Shines Tonight.” Tonight my Christmas wish will be for all to heed the call: Peace on Earth and in our hearts, Let love ring out, ring near and far, And lift the weary and the weak, And keep you near on Christmas eve, There is a star that shines tonight.
Arise, shine for your light has come. Heed the call. Let love ring out, near and far. Lift the weary and the weak.
Arise, shine, for you carry light, you are light – light for a weary world, light of kindness, compassion, caring, reconciliation, peace, joy, love.
Arise, shine, let the mirrors burn when you pass, burn brightly with Christ’s light in you. Aspire to become all flame. Amen.