Arise, shine; for your light has come

Lift up your eyes and look around;

…bring gold and frankincense,

And proclaim the praise of the Lord!

Messy. The end of the old year and the beginning of a new year is always a messy, confusing time. The Christmas decorations haven’t been put away. You can see scraps of the torn wrappings of recently opened presents still under the sofa. Too many containers of leftovers in the refrigerator…

And yet the page is turned. It’s a new day. It’s a new year. The screaming media is shouting about the newest crisis and the last I looked none of the old ones have been resolved or even gone away.

Yet, the page is turned. And it’s a new day in which we are celebrating Epiphany of all things. We feel like the proverbial “morning after the night before.”

And in all of this – particularly as I’ve been thinking about and preparing this message for this morning – for some reason I’ve been thinking about two people. And I’ve wondered to myself why would I – of all the people I know or have known, why would I happen to think about these two particular people?

Several years ago, I was at another church.

One of the other members was a lady who actively volunteered in the church. She volunteered in several activities but her most noticeable work was in the office. She handled the routine and sometimes tedious tasks that most of us would seek to avoid. And she did it well.

This was several years ago. Then I heard some talk in the church about a birthday party for this particular lady. She would be 80. 80! I remember thinking to myself. At that age will she be able to keep doing the many things she was doing for the church? That’s pretty old.

The other person was Mrs. Hervey. She taught Sunday School.

I don’t remember exactly if I was in the fifth or sixth grade at the time. I grew up in Texarkana, Arkansas.

On Sunday mornings my parents would drop my brother and I off at the Sunday School at the First Methodist Church, Arkansas. Just a few blocks away was the First Methodist Church, Texas, but that was in a different state and a different world.

For some reason I remember the class as for boys only. And we weren’t real well-behaved. Our teacher Mrs. Hervey bravely assigned us a project.

She wanted us to learn a prayer. She wanted us to memorize a prayer. A particular prayer.

And the funny thing is I cannot remember the name of the prayer – or who said it or wrote it – and I cannot remember very many of the words. Matter of fact all I can remember is just one phrase from that prayer:

“Help me to stand for the hard right against the easy wrong.”

“Help me to stand for the hard right against the easy wrong.”

And as I think about that there have been times, various times over the years, when I was in some situation, when I was facing something where I needed to do something, or say something – and whatever I did or said wasn’t going to be easy, wasn’t going to be popular, was not going to make me any friends – and yet I sort of heard those words – that prayer – God, help me to stand for the hard right against the easy wrong.

We are celebrating Epiphany.

This is one of those words I have to look up to be sure I am spelling it correctly. And I have to look up the definition to be sure I understand what it means.

These days if we need to know something we look it up on the computer.

Which I did.

And I found this:

“The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) – Google quoted the location of our Gospel reading for today –

or, the definition continued -a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being,

and finally, a moment of sudden revelation or insight.”

Paul was toward the end of his life. He knew that. He was sitting in a prison in Rome. He had finally made it to Rome. And he writes a letter to his friends in one of those places where he had lived for several years, helped establish a church, had followed the church’s up’s and down’s over the years.

He’s writing sort of a final word to his friends.

And in the portion that we have heard read to us this morning he speaks to us of “mystery.”

Three times he speaks to us of mystery:

“The mystery was made known to me by revelation…”

“…my understanding of the mystery of Christ…”

“…in former generations this mystery was not made known to mankind, as it has now been revealed…”

Mystery? Mystery? What is Mystery?

Again, Google.

Mystery: “Something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.”

Such as what?

The word “Epiphany” is sort of a mystery – it could be described as difficult to understand – even to understand.

“The mystery was made known to me by revelation…”

Paul is talking in one sense about his meeting of Jesus on the road to Damascus. A fierce persecutor of the Christians, Paul through that revelation on the road to Damascus becomes one of the greatest evangelists of all time.

Revelation in another sense refers to the ongoing revelation – much of which we know because recorded in the bible – the revelation of God over the years to the people of Israel – not the least of which the revelations of One to come as we have been noting through this Advent season – and especially in the coming into the world of his Son.

Are we in our own day touched by revelation? Our study of the Bible is a study of God’s revelations to us. Additionally, I sometimes think we can be moved by great words, great art, great music. I think sometimes the objective realities of truth, goodness, and beauty speak to us of the realness of the God who creates.

“My understanding of the mystery of Christ…”

Paul speaks of Jesus Christ, One of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God. Earlier in his letter to his friends in Ephesus, he speaks of Christ, as the One through whom we receive redemption, the forgiveness of our trespasses, in short, the Good News!

And it is Good News! And as we come to the end of a year, maybe the end of two years we are glad to see gone. Years marked by death, sickness, a sickness of spirit, a spirit of divisiveness, hate, lack of goodwill – all of that “Stuff” – One – has come to us in the form of a little baby – born in a dusty, dirty barn – who will put all of that behind us.

“In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed…”

Paul is saying that with the coming of Christ Jesus, the Anointed One, the Savior, we are experiencing a New Thing, The Advent, the coming of God Incarnate, in human flesh, the manifestation of a divine being, the Son of God. We were told about it. It was prophesized. It was predicted. And He has come!

Earlier, I recalled two people. Two people I have known in my life who for some reason I have thought about during this Advent and Epiphany Season.

One is a lady who served the church I attended as a volunteer. I recalled that at that time she was getting ready to celebrate one of those “milestone” birthdays.

I guess the reason that I recalled her is that during the year coming I will observe – note, not celebrate – a similar milestone birthday. To be honest, I do not like to think about getting older – but getting old has a way of reminding you that you are getting older.

So, what do we do? Well, keep getting up every morning. Keep doing what God wants us to do.

I asked a friend about the lady. She is still there. She is still going strong. God bless her.

The other person I recalled was Mrs. Hervey. She was a Sunday School teacher I had as a kid years ago in Texarkana, Arkansas. I recalled how I had remembered something she had taught us years and years ago. Something important about how to live.

Not to put too fine a point on it, that is what we are doing here this morning. That is why we are here.

What will we keep doing?

We will keep sharing with all who will listen that a Light, the Light of the Holy One has come into our lives and we will keep bringing gifts….

Arise, shine, for our light has come!

Lift up your eyes and look around!

…bring gold and frankincense,

And proclaim the praise of the Lord!


Richard Robertson