Hospitality of the Light 1/3/10

Isaiah 60:1-6                                          Ephesians 3:1-12                               Matthew 2:1-12

“Lift up your eyes and look around.”  We gather together to worship the Lord, to grow in our faith, to challenge each other in our discipleship.  Look around you, what do you see?  Maybe you have made a personal resolution for this New Year.  What would be our collective resolution be for this church?  What are we striving towards on this new path before us?  A word that has stuck with me for several months now is hospitality, and I wonder what this word might teach us about ourselves, about our God, and about the way forward.

Revelation of the Light

An epiphany, in its truest sense, is a revelation … a sudden understanding that was not there a moment before.  Like a sudden break in the clouds or a light bursting into the darkness.  On this epiphany Sunday, we celebrate the sudden appearance of the Light of Christ.  In considering the nature of Christ, we recognize that Christ is and always has been with God, but the light entered the world in a very particular way more than two thousand years ago.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Never before had God come among his people in such a way.  And as Matthew shows us, this message, this light, comes for more than just the chosen people of Judaism.

The light has appeared for all who seek out the light.  There is a gracious and radical nature to the welcome and hospitality of Christ.  There are no prerequisites to faith in Christ, no tests or requirements.  All that is necessary is the faith to seek out the One.  The visit of the Magi is Matthew’s way of beginning his gospel with an emphasis on the Gentile, the outsider.  These ‘wise’ men from the east are seeking out something, and they had done this seeking outside of the traditional ways of seeking out God in Judaism.  Where did your faith begin?  Do you still seek out Christ?  When do you seek God? Do you seek out the light when you are tired, scared, excited, energetic?  We have all sought out the Lord – that is why we are here today.  I would venture a guess that all of us have sought out help in finding Christ in our lives.

The Journey of the Magi

                The magi are wise men from the East.  Traditionally, they are depicted as being of different races and ages. It is most likely that they were from Babylon or modern day, Iran or Iraq.  Imagine what it might be like for us to have wise men from these middle-eastern cultures arrive in our midst today and inquire after a specific person they have heard about in prophecies.  I wonder what our reactions might be, and if we would be gracious hosts.  The magi studied the stars and the Hebrew Scriptures, but they weren’t particularly wise in asking help in finding “the king of the Jews” from a current King.  We might even say they were more naïve than wise in their choice of help.  But they earnestly and relentlessly sought out the star and they were overwhelmed with joy when it again appeared over Bethlehem.  How do we counsel seekers as they seek the star?  (Nicene Creed)  Are we unnerved by their overwhelming joy at finding Christ?

                Once the magi find Christ, they offer gifts befitting a King – although the parent in me has to point that these are not particularly practical gifts.  Then again, what do you get for the individual who brings light into the world, who brings salvation for the world, who is himself such a gift for the world?  What were the magi expecting to find?  When they found an infant, what were there words to his family?  Did they have any insights into the kind of life that Christ might lead?  Historically, these were likely gifts that would have been carried to give to a person of high honor.  But Christian tradition also gives the gifts particular meaning – gold for a king, incense for a priest, and myrrh for the one who would die for so many.  These magi followed customs and traditions outside of the norm of Judaism, but perhaps their willingness to be led to the Christ-child and seek out the light of the world was in itself a gift to the holy family.

Hospitality and Living as a Child of Light

Suddenly after the magi meet Christ and recognize the Light of the World, they are called home and told in a dream to return by another route.  I imagine they left a befuddled Mary and Joseph scratching their chins and wondering what it would be like to raise this strange and wonderful person they agreed to parent.  We, too, might ask why the story of the magi is included in the gospel.  What is so important about these Gentiles?  What does Matthew want us to know about them?  The theme of light and of the inclusion of outsiders is recurrent in Matthew.  The last words of Christ to his disciples are to go out into the world bearing witness to the light.  The nature of light is that it should not be hid in darkness; light is made to be shared.  

Hospitality and light are inextricably linked together.  They fit together naturally and so it seems just as natural to celebrate epiphany and communion together.  We celebrate the light of Christ on earth, just as we celebrate Christ’s hospitality in extending his grace to all that seek out the light.

Christ is the host of this Supper that we will share in remembrance of his death and resurrection, and “it is clear that the light of God shines most definitively through Jesus Christ.[1]”  Each of us that respond to Christ’s invitation becomes a child of light, a disciple of Christ.  Discipleship is a call to let the light of Christ shine through all that you do.

How do we show Christ’s hospitality?  I ask this as a spiritual question and practical question.  Hospitality, I think, is a wonderful focus for this congregation because it is something that you do as naturally as breathing.  Whether it is putting together a monthly meal, organizing and manning the clothesline, writing out recipes and gathering the ingredients together for a newcomer, putting together and delivering bags of food for those that need it, organizing an evening of family fun …. There are countless ways this congregation is already extending holy hospitality.  As we go forward together, are there new ways for us to extend sanctuary to those who seek out God?  Are we helping to guide and counsel disciples to the Christ child?  How do we welcome seekers of the light?

 As we enter this New Year, I invite us to think on these questions and
meditate on the revelation of Christ as though encountering Christ anew.

You are the light of the world … Let your light shine before others, so that
they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14,16)

 


[1] William J. Danaher Jr.  Feasting on the Word. Matthew 2:1-12

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