1. God Is with Us
Today, we are celebrating the very first Sunday of 2020, as Epiphany Sunday. The word “epiphany” means revelation or manifestation of the divine. And for Christians, this epiphany is about Jesus, especially the day of his humble birth. On this day, the Magi, the three wise men, followed the starlight, traveled a long way to visit the baby Jesus, and finally, they witnessed the shimmering revelation of something divine in him. What would be that something these three wise men witnessed? It’s a mystery with full of wonder. But, we do know one thing for sure. The baby Jesus in a manger manifested the heart of God for the world, the heart full of love. In that baby Jesus, we see and experience that God loves us and wants to be with us, so God comes down and dwells among us. As the Angel Gabriel announced and as the Prophet Isaiah foretold, the name of Jesus is indeed “Emmanuel, God with us.”
Yes, Jesus, as the Son of God, reveals the heart of God: God doesn’t want to be without us. So, God will be with us all the time. The Bible in many places testifies that God always came to people first, when they were yet sinners and even when they had no idea about God. God came to Abraham to make a covenant with him. God revealed Godself to Moses in the burning bush to save the Hebrews from slavery. God spoke to the prophets to turn the people of God back from their wrong ways. And finally, God came down to earth and was incarnated in Jesus. Why? It’s because our God’s nature is love. Our God is love and the best expression of this love is to be with us always. Throughout the year of 2020, whether circumstances are favorable or unfavorable to us, let us not forget this truth we know: God is with us. And this is the first simple lesson for us to remember as we open up this new year.
2. Embody the Love
The God of true love doesn’t only stay in a higher or lofty position to be adored. But this God doesn’t mind coming down to lowly places in our midst, to be with us. This surely is good news for us. The love manifested in Jesus Christ is not an idealistic or philosophical love. Instead, it’s literally a down-to-earth love, the embodied love. To be with us, this God of love doesn’t mind taking a human form, having flesh and blood. God doesn’t mind coming to dwell in humble places. Jesus was born in a shabby stable. There was no crowd and no visit from any family or friends, from any powerful or famous people. However, right in the very stable, which looks farthermost away from divine glory, the most divine and the most mysterious work of God happened. The incarnation.
Yes, Jesus, as the love incarnate, reveals the heart of God: God doesn’t want to be out of our reach or remain illusory. So God shows the way that divine love takes on flesh in our lives, takes on concrete and tangible form. And this love calls all the believers, who have faith in the incarnation, to follow this way of God’s love to change the world. One of my favorite writers, Parker J. Palmer, beautifully describes this, saying, “An infant in a manger is as vulnerable as human beings get, and what an infant needs is simple: food, shelter and protection from harm. The same is true of all the good words seeded in our souls [love, truth, and justice] that long to become embodied in our midst. If these vulnerable but powerful parts of ourselves are to be incarnated—to suffer yet survive and thrive, transforming us and the wounded world around us—they need to be swaddled in unconditional love.” As the followers of Jesus, we are called to try and try more and harder to embody the love of God in our lives through our hands and feet, through our church’s ministries, through our kind words, and through our merciful hearts. Make the love visible, make the love real. Make it take on flesh in our words and deeds. Embody the love. And this is the second simple lesson for us to remember as we open up this new year.
3. Shine the Light
From the baby Jesus in a manger, the light of grace shines forth on all people and illuminates the world in the darkness. Jesus is “the true light” that “enlightens everyone” as the Gospel of John testifies (John 1:9). This true light came and shone in a manger, in a humble stable. There, the Magi witnessed the presence of God in the true light—not in the palace of the powerful Roman emperors who were often deified, not in the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the birth of Jesus was immediately followed by a great threat 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 and even needed to flee. The family became refugees running away from persecution and wandering in a foreign land. However, nothing could keep the divine light from shining.
Yes, Jesus, the true light, reveals the heart of God: God doesn’t want us to be in the darkness. God always shines the light upon each one of us. Jesus becomes the enduring light in our hearts. And as bearers of this true light, we are called to carry this true light to wherever we go and let it shine. Especially, to the lowliest and loneliest places around us, in the places that seem to have nothing to do with any matter of God, and to the lives that are not cared by many people, we are asked to go to those places with the light of Christ. The prophet Isaiah proclaims, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you” (Isaiah 60:1-2). Arise. Shine the light. And this is the third simple lesson for us to remember as we open up this new year.
Faithful friends in Christ, God is with us. God wants to be with us no matter where we are. So with Christ in our hearts, let us joyfully start our new year with faith and hope. And let us change our parts of the world with the love and light of Jesus Christ. Remember the three simple lessons for this new year. God is with us. Embody the love. Shine the light. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim