What Child Is This Now?
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
Januray 6, 2019 Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12; 7:7-14
The force of love and life and light that we call God created the universe, shaped the earth, brought lifeless elements together and miraculously sparked them into living beings. Single cell organisms evolved ever more complexity. Eyes or wings or shells evolved in response to sensed cellular need—miracles worked by the creative intelligence of that force of light within all things.
Today we are celebrating an even greater miracle, the miracle of epiphany, the miracle that human consciousness evolved that could see the manifestation of God and then envision an ideal way to live by contemplating the force of love and life and light that created us.
The prophet Isaiah wrote about epiphany, “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.”
One of the miracles of human consciousness is that we can choose whether to turn to the light of God or turn away from it into the darkness of selfishness. Darkness has covered the earth, and thick darkness the peoples before, but we live in a time that is darker than ever.
Epiphany comes along and says, arise, shine, lift your eyes because the force of love and life and light is far greater than any darkness. See and be radiant! See the light and you will become a channel of its wisdom shining to transform the darkness and save the world.
The Magi were Zoroastrian priests or wizards who saw their purpose as helping the world become ever truer to the light of the creator. They saw through their powers of divination a sign that a great manifestation of that light was rising in Jesus.
Of course, this may be just a story, no more factual than Harry Potter or Star Wars or the Avengers, but like all good fiction it is grounded in truth. Many did see the light in Jesus, many witnessed the Holy Spirit in his wisdom, compassion and mercy and many recognized the nature of the realm of God in his teaching that love is the core of all ethics and morality.
The followers of Christ saw the light in Jesus and were radiant themselves, and that force of light changed the world.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” This is a promise of epiphany. We will find the light we need to overcome even the darkest of times.
We will find the Christ child born here among us anew if we ask and seek and knock. The church is his body, his Spirit lives within us, his superpowers of love and life and light are ours to use. He wants to be born in us, he wants to be seen by us, he wants to work through us.
Later we will sing “What child is this?” but the question is, “What child is this now?” What new works, what new ways of being, what new movement does his light want to guide and empower us to bring about?
We are not the first people to look for the light in a shadowy world. We know many stories of epiphanies and the world-changing actions that came from people seeing the light. St. Francis and Pope Francis, Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day, the abolition of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, the women’s and gay rights movements and the stories of tens of thousands of people like us who saw the light and were radiant and together became a force of light that enlightened the world.
The Magi saw hope that through this obscure Jewish child the earth would become as just, peaceful and sustainable as the wisdom of God created it to be. What hope do we see in Christ? What do we need this child to be now?
Jesus said, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” But just after giving us that formulation of the Golden Rule he said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
The hope Christ gives us now is simple, ancient and universal. Every religion has it at the core of its ethic. It is the most sacred thing there is: loving our neighbor as our self, treating others the way we would want to be treated—even strangers, even enemies, even “frogs and waters and weeds,” even future generations.
Wise people in every generation for three thousand years have known that the Golden Rule is the key to the survival of human civilization. Now in our generation, we must finally create the world that the Magi hoped Jesus would help bring into being. We must build a world based on the Golden Rule within the next decade or science tells us there may be no future chance.
Jesus tells us plainly that the road will be hard. The Magi may have had a difficult desert crossing on their way to Jesus, but we can imagine that when God told them to go home by another way, it was even harder. We can no longer go the way we have been going as a human race. God is telling us that we have to go home another way.
After worship we are going to begin a process to decide how we will fulfill our Future Directions Vision where we say, “We intend to be a force, not merely a presence, effecting positive social change for peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.”
We know that humanity needs to make huge changes in order to live by the Golden Rule in relation to issues like climate change or racism or poverty or refugees. Today we are going to ask ourselves three hard questions: “What might it look like to apply the Golden Rule to this issue? What feels positive to me about applying the Golden Rule to our actions on this issue? And what makes it feel difficult or complicated to apply the Golden Rule?”
The hope that Epiphany holds out is that followers of Christ will ask these hard questions of themselves, because the gate is narrow. Who will find it if we do not open that gate for them and beat a path to it?
Yet we are not alone. Right now around the world others are seeing the same star of hope rising. Zoroastrians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and all indigenous religions, people of all faiths, all who love their God, their neighbor, their children, their home. Billions of us are feeling the growing urgency to transform the structures of civilization now to fulfill the Golden Rule.
This worldwide Epiphany is exciting. It is exciting to be one of the Magi who sees what child this is now. It is exciting to offer our gifts to help God’s movement of transformation. Let us enter into this process with hope and joy and gratitude, because this is our moment. This is what we and this church were born to do.
Let us pray in silence…