8th January 2017
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Whether talking about new dawns, stars in the void of night, or movements of people upon this fragile earth…Epiphany is a season for rising up.
Now forgive me if I nerd out a little in this sermon, but give a priest a little Christmas vacation and he starts seeing the great story with new eyes.
The great story…the story of salvation… is what we encounter in the story of Jesus’s birth, and is a tale that is embedded in the very fabric of creation.
Everything began with light rising up in the darkness.
So it seems fitting that the central theme of Isaiah’s reading, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and the Gospel of Matthew’s recounting of the visit of the magi is light rising up.
In Isaiah we hear the hopes of the prophet and the people united in the words “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”
Morning prayer aficionados will know this as the beginning of the third song of Isaiah, and it powerfully speaks of nations streaming to Israel because the Lord’s glory has arisen within it.
The gifts of the wise men are even mentioned at the end of the passage and provide a connection with Matthew’s scene.
But what really gripped me this week was the fact that the Greek word for “from the East,” anatolai, meaning “the rising” is the same root found in the Isaiah passage.
This theme of rising up is more important than I had previously considered.
While the meaning of the wise men’s gifts, and their connection to Jesus’s life and story are often the theme of Epiphany sermons, the larger theme of rising up seems especially pertinent in these days.
Jesus’s birth, accompanied by the rising of a star in the East, ushers in a new age in which the downtrodden, the forgotten, and the people who have been covered in darkness begin to rise up.
Herod’s plans to squelch any popular, prophesied rebellion involve using the wise men as informants, these Gentile astronomers who have followed the rising star from a far away nation.
But the rising up of God’s people in Jesus cannot be thwarted.
In fact, that is what Matthew will spend the entirety of his Gospel trying to communicate to those who have ears to hear.
The King of the Jews the wise men are searching for in Bethlehem…the direct threat to the reigning King of the Jews, Herod…will wind up at the end of the Gospel on a cross with a mocking inscription over his head “THIS is the King of the Jews.”
The magi’s refusal to return to Herod forces Jesus’s family to become refugees, fleeing to Egypt for their life, and paralleling the Moses’ saga that takes place in that country and beyond.
As I said before, it is the great story…many characters, many facets…but one story.
The question for those of us who gather in this place in the year 2017, is how our stories connect with the great story.
There has never been a better time to rise up.
Whether you personally feel spiritually downtrodden, forgotten, or covered in darkness, or whether you feel connected to the larger struggle of God’s people to move from bondage to freedom, Epiphany is a time to focus on rising up.
It is a time to look for light in the midst of darkness, to follow it, and to stick with it even though there are voices and forces that would rather obscure that light for their own designs, as Herod did.
It is a time to connect with the great story of salvation and let it enlighten you and direct your actions.
Over break I watched a PBS special on the making of the musical Hamilton, the Broadway hit that tells the story of the American Revolution and Alexander Hamilton’s life through the lens of hip-hop rhythms and rhymes.
In many ways the story of Hamilton’s life and the early years of the American experiment connect with elements of the great story.
Alexander, the immigrant, urges the colonists to rise up against King George and fight for the right of self-determination and the right to “tell one’s own story.”
The most fascinating aspect of the special was the way the staging and crafting of the musical paralleled the life of Lin Manuel Miranda, the musical’s principal creator and actor.
Just like Hamilton, Manuel Miranda rose up from relative obscurity to popularity through his role in the story.
For Hamilton, it was his life story’s connection to the emerging American story which accounted for his rise, and for Manuel Miranda, it was his connection to Hamilton’s story, and the still emerging and changing American story at this time in history, that has accounted for his rise.
I couldn’t help but see how despite the obvious and important differences between these stories and the story of salvation in Jesus, they are all connected in a way to the great story.
The story of committed people moving with purpose toward more light, more freedom, and more promise.
The story of salvation in the face of impossible odds.
Jesus will rise up from a manger in Jerusalem to become a famous healer, teacher and miracle worker, and is eventually killed because his story of God’s salvation for all challenged the story the powerful needed to tell to keep the people downtrodden, forgotten and covered in darkness.
Jesus began a revolution that “turned the world upside down” as did Hamilton and the founding fathers.
But Jesus’ revolution did not come through the sword…it has always been a revolution that requires a will of steel, a heart of flesh, and the spirit of a warrior, but without the employ of weapons of war.
And Jesus’ revolution is not confined to one group of people, one nation, or one generation, but has served as a “light to the nations,” a more universal rallying cry.
Where does your story fit into the great story?
What in you needs to rise up this Epiphany, or this year, in order to let the great story live and grow in and through you?
All of us are called through our baptism to follow the light of Jesus and to make that light known to others through the way we live.
We are commissioned to be revelations of the divine story, incarnate epiphanies, that give the great story life and meaning in the midst of the times we inhabit.
Maybe your contribution is through daily acts of mercy and love that make God’s light arise in your workspace or neighborhood.
Maybe it is through creating something beautiful, like a hit musical that inspires people, or a political revolution that moves more people toward freedom.
Whatever it is, Epiphany is a time to let the light of God rise in your heart and mind, and to allow its illumination to shine upon where your personal gifts and the needs of the great story intersect.
It’s time to rise up and tell the story.
Yours, ours, and most importantly, THE Story.
Rise up like the morning sun, like the star over Bethlehem, like the community called the church, and take your place and tell the story as well.
Isaiah told it, Paul told it, Matthew told it, the wise men told it, and generations of faithful women and men have told it far and wide.
How will you tell it?