We are celebrating today, the very first Sunday of 2017, as Epiphany Sunday. Personally, I really appreciate this Christian tradition of having Epiphany in the first week of the year, because it helps us begin a new year with our reflections on the birth of Jesus and with recapitulations of its meanings in our lives.
The word “epiphany” means a revelation, an appearance or a manifestation of something divine. And it particularly means an event wherein the divine unveils itself to us. In this context, for us, Christians, this epiphany is about Jesus and the day of his humble birth. The Magi followed the starlight, traveled a long way to visit the baby Jesus, and finally, witnessed the shimmering revelation of God in him. Although this day of epiphany may come to us as a mystery with full of wonder, the appearance of Jesus on the day has surely revealed God’s heart for the world—God’s love for all the people. And until now, this revelation has shined forth the light of grace on all people and illuminated the world in the darkness. Indeed, Jesus has been “the true light” that “enlightens everyone” as the Gospel of John testifies us (John 1:9).
On this Epiphany Sunday, remembering God’s grace and love revealed in Jesus Christ, we may ask one guiding question: “To where, in which place, did the true light come and shine?” This question is important because it can lead us to a question on Christian life: “To where, in which place, do we have to carry the true light and let it shine?”
According to the Gospel of Luke, the true light came and shone in a manger, in a humble stable. A manger is where no babies are supposed to be laid. And a stable is not a dwelling place for anyone. Then, is it really imaginable that the divine light reveals anything through a baby in a shabby, small, and smelly stable? Not from the powerful Roman emperors who were often deified, not from the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem, but from a vulnerable and helpless baby, the Magi witnessed the presence of God and the true light. Around the lowly manger, there was no crowd, no followers, and no visits from family. Silent and hidden, it was a night where there was a secret visitation rather than an open invitation.
“To where, in which place, did the true light come and shine?” In the place that looked farthermost away from divine glory, in the place that we wouldn’t want to look into and care, where people needed to endure bad smells and dirtiness, where people should bend their back to enter, the true light of God came and shone first. It is obvious that the light we are talking about is far from the external spectacular and the mundane glamor. Now, “to where, in which place, do we have to carry this true light and let it shine?” To the lowliest and loneliest place around us, in the place that seems to have nothing to do with any matter of God, and to the lives that are not cared by many people, we are required to go to those places with the light of Christ. And we should remember that the great journey of Christian faith did not start from a lofty palace or a high temple, but from an unknown humble manger.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, we see that the true light also came and shone among precarious lives. The birth of Jesus was immediately followed by a great threat and danger as Herod came after Jesus to kill him. The life of Jesus was set in a treacherous situation from its beginning. The holy family who didn’t have a place to stay for a night even needed to flee. Is it really imaginable that God would reveal the good news through this helpless baby…the baby born to a low-class family, a fugitive family running away from persecution, and a refugee family wandering in a foreign land? Into the middle of this great threat, in the middle of the horrible massacre that took the lives of the babies in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under… that’s where Jesus came (Matthew 2:16).
“To where, in which place, did the true light come and shine?” In the place that was unsafe and threatening, where the circumstances were hostile and unfavorable, where people could suffer and feel depressed, the true light of God came and shone. Again, it is obvious that the light we are talking about is far from the external spectacular and the mundane glamor. Now, “to where, in which place, do we have to carry this true light and let it shine?” To the place where we see the pain of refugees and the persecuted, to the lives that are oppressed, helpless, and hopeless, we may go to those places with the light of Christ.
A new year has begun, and a new day has dawned bright. However, the light that came to the world on Christmas, the true light of Jesus Christ, is within our hearts as the same. And with this light, we have work to do this year, this day. Let us read the words of Howard Thurman together:
Today, why don’t we pray first that the light of epiphany may illuminate us and reveal who Jesus is to us? I hope the true light of Christ shines inside our hearts and shows us the place where Jesus may intend to dwell today. The light may be not shiny like beautiful Christmas luminaries that bedazzle us. But I believe that in this New Year, the light will keep challenging us to go and brighten up the places where people are helplessly exposed to violence, discrimination, illness, suffering, and poverty. May the true light strangely warm our hearts to embrace our neighbor and forgive our friends. May the true light enlighten us to share God’s love and grace with one another and to build the Kingdom of hope and joy together in this world. Amen.