Epiphany: the Lord shall arise upon you

A sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany, shared by Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, and the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio

This sermon was written and recorded before Christmas. This afternoon, White nationalists bent on overturning the result of the 2020 election stormed the Capitol building. At the time of posting, all is not well in our nation, and anxieties are high.

This is still true: That the Magi saw the light from the borders of tumult and strife, the rough and raw edges of empire. After they had found its source, … cradled in a manger and squalling with humanity; afterwards, they returned home by another way, having discovered in a dream the cruelty of human kings and the personal danger of confronting corruption with the light of God. But it is out of the darkness of God’s womb that light shines, and out of emptiness that God’s love filled the world. And no amount of destruction can counter the creative love of our God.

My friends, take care of one another, for great care will be needed to patch up the wounds of this country. Pray for peace. Pray for healing. Pray for the soul of our nation. Pray for one another. God, hear our prayer. Christ, have mercy upon us.


It began in darkness.

Before the creation of the world, everything that yet was nothing was empty and devoid of light There was as yet no heaven, no earth; but there was God. In the dark womb of God’s imagination, creation began.

First, God called out the light.

A few billion years later, give or take, a stargazer by night, his life swept up in awe of God’s resplendent creativity, noticed something bright, something unusually bright.

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

The prophet wrote his oracle of light in the midst of exile and oppression. The Magi saw the light from the borders of tumult and strife, the rough and raw edges of empire. After they had found its source, not, as they once might have expected, in the heavens but cradled in a manger and squalling with humanity; afterwards, they returned home by another way, having discovered in a dream the cruelty of human kings and the personal danger of confronting corruption with the light of God.

Out of darkness the light shines. The Magi saw the light from the borders of tumult and strife, the rough and raw edges of empire. After they had found its source, not, as they once might have expected, in the heavens but cradled in a manger and squalling with humanity; afterwards, they returned home by another way, having discovered in a dream the cruelty of human kings and the personal danger of confronting corruption with the light of God.

In recent years, scientists across the globe have named a new geological epoch—the Anthropocene—to describe the tipping point at which human activity, human creativity, human consumption and callous casting off have come to define our world, its climate, its health and safety. Humanity, we are now told, has filled the world with as much matter as life itself. That is, all the stuff that we have made now weighs as much as every living thing on earth put together. We have become so distracted by our own bling that we are in danger of burying ourselves beneath it.

darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.

A United Nations report argues that “we are the first people to live in an age defined by human choice, in which the dominant risk to our survival is ourselves.” Inequities across the world threaten some, while over-indulgence threatens others, and the changes to our climate, the mantle cloaking the shoulders of our environment, torn and stained and singed, are becoming ever more visible.

It is the challenge of a new era, a new epoch, but it has been a long time in the making.

When the Magi chose another route to their home, they did so because they recognized that “we … live in an age defined by human choice, in which the dominant risk to our survival is ourselves.” They saw the cruelty of kings and the greed of power, the dangers of opposing corruption and consumption, and they withdrew.

Perhaps the difference is that we are now past the point of withdrawing from the danger. Warned by the prophets, by the Word of God, by our dreams, and by the modern Magi, our scientists, we have recognized that the danger is within us.

“We … live in an age defined by human choice, in which the dominant risk to our survival is ourselves.” We make our choices of how to live, whether to increase the burden of our climate or relieve what we can; whether to protect the air from pollution and the airways of our neighbour from pandemic, or not; whether to humble ourselves before the image of God confronting us across the street, or to turn our faces away. Whether to seek illumination as wise inquirers, or, like Herod, self-satisfied yet precarious, only to pretend.

If we find ourselves in darkness for a season, we have no need to be afraid of it, for Christ is with us, for darkness is the womb of God. If we find ourselves uncertain of the way forward, the heavens clouded and the north star shrouded, we have seen a light that is not distant from us, not hidden in the heavens or shrouded by clouds of grief or of glory, but borne among us, wherever the love of God is remembered, and the child of God attended with mercy and justice and humility. We have a light that we can carry before us, to lighten the ways of the world for those whom God has given us to love.

If, in fact, we “live in an age defined by human choice” still, we live also in an age defined by the patient and persevering love of God, the timelessness and tirelessness of mercy, the endurance of the One who holds both light and darkness in one hand, and makes of them kings and wise men, fools and knaves, sinners and saints, and the Christ child, born to save us all.

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. …
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice …
The sun shall no longer be your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down
or your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.

Isaiah 60:1-2,5,19-20

Amen

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 2020). She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
This entry was posted in Holy Days and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s