Eph. 3:7-12, Mt. 2:1-18
Thoughts for Epiphany
Sermon by the Rev. Beverly Prestwood-Taylor, Athol Congregational Church
Poem by Elena Huegel, Global Ministries
Change is so hard. Everyone has trouble with it.
How many of you have put away Christmas? All the lights, decorations of this warm, glowing season? Here at the church we just have the manger scene left because we are celebrating Epiphany. The coming of the light, the realization the Jesus has brought love into our world. And after the excess of food, maybe we're not eating as much sugar, or we're cleaning out our houses or whatever it is we do to transition to the quiet of January from the noise of Christmas.
How was your Christmas?
Maybe it was a beautiful spiritual experience for you, and you’re left with a closeness to God you’ve not felt before, or a sense of hope that runs deeper than ever.
But most of the time, it is not quite so picture perfect because as hard as we try, we can’t get it exactly right.
- Because two people in your family don’t get along or there are cross words spoken.
- Or there are words unspoken, but tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife.
- Or maybe the people you are closest to weren’t there this year.
- Or maybe you didn’t get the present you wanted.
- Or maybe there was some kind of health crisis or scare.
You are left with a sense of emptiness, longing for something you can’t quite touch, can’t even put into worlds. Something doesn’t quite fit. Our Christmas' are always imperfect because we are imperfect. Even the Bible story in Matthew is an imperfect story of Jesus' birth.
Just when we thought the story was going in such a good direction...with the baby born to be the Savior of the world, love itself incarnate...heralded by angels, attended by shepherds, and worshipped by people of a totally different religion from a different land, those Magi from the East.
Then we have this short, blunt and horrific story of the slaughter of children 2 and under in and around Bethlehem. It comes right here in the middle of the angelic chorus and idyllic display; it rips through the peaceful scene, shredding the sweetness and light.
The reason God comes to us and we need God so much is because of the evil that lurks in our world and appears suddenly and unexpected. In fact, it almost seems like the greatest, highest good in our lives and our world seems to attract evil.
The story of Yitzhak Rabin is one example.
Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister of Israel for a second term in 1992. He embraced the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Under his leadership, several historic agreements were signed, called the Oslo Accords. In 1994, because of the accords, Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize alone with his long-time Israeli political rival Shimon Peres. Can you imagine in our nation a Republican and a Democrat sharing the Nobel Peace Prize? And the two Israelis shared it with the leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat. Around the world, people dared to believe that Middle Eastern peace wasn’t just a fantasy, but a real, true possibility . . . even a likelihood. Seemingly endless bloodshed and suffering might truly end. Years upon years of hard work and centuries upon centuries of hope were about to be realized. Peace seemed about to settle in among the people in and around Israel and Palestine.
On the evening November 4, 1995, after attending a rally, Yitzhak Rabin made his way toward his car. There he was assassinated by an extremist who had opposed those Oslo Accords. This lone act of evil caused all the previous work toward peace simply to crumble into dust. Good attracted evil, and the evil was sufficient to nullify/undermine the good that had been built.
There are several reasons good seems to attract evil:
- There is something unfinished about the world. God brings order out of chaos, but there is some spiritual force in the world that is insidious, mysterious, untamed, and comes out of nowhere to disrupt and destroy.
- We human beings are made in God's image and infected with sin at the same time. I believe that most of us actually want to be good people. Yet we can be selfish and fearful, violent and jealous, and downright hateful. Sometimes we’re simply oblivious to the consequences of our words or actions. We can be attracted to evil and not even realize it. In fact, that’s what makes evil so very EVIL! It often doesn't look like evil. It looks like expediency, or it looks like collateral damage for some greater good. If evil was obvious or good was easy, the world would be better than it is.
- Change can be really, really hard. It can be so threatening to us that our resistance to it causes harm to others.
What can we do?
First of all, we affirm the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu that the promise given to us is that: Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
through Christ who loved us. Desmond Tutu
Secondly, we can be aware of our own frailties and failings and not fall prey to vengeance and violence. We can look into the shadows of our own hurt or disappointment, and how our reactions affect others. We can think about what we miss most in our lives, or what our lives could be like “if only.” Maybe it is time to sit in the silence and reflect on the arguments and the friction, and instead of pretending it isn’t so, finding a way to address it. Maybe Epiphany is a time to experience the pain of the difference between the reality we long for and the reality that is, instead of projecting our dissatisfaction onto and allowing our pain to be displaced upon some scapegoat.
Third, we can be tenacious. We can get back up and start again. We can acknowledge the mistakes of today.
It may be that our lived experience of God’s love is less like a phoenix going up in flames and being reborn in ashes, and more like a dandelion.
It keeps coming back, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. You rip it out, you pour poison on it, and it keeps coming back season after season.
Dandelion: by Elena Huegel
How the seed fell there to land
Only the wind will know
Right between the cement slabs
Planted after miles flown
Whirligig launched from a fuzzy pad
Package of life, joy and hope.
Green growing amidst the gray
Then a burst of sunlight
Dance atop the stem and plays
With insects, breeze and passersby
No thorns, no stings, but strong inside.
Who declared it a weed,
"Flora non grata" despised?
Willing to live the pain and grief
that neither picking nor insecticide
can erase the tenacity of peace.
Willing to grow, willing to die
A little girl pinches the fluff
That take the flower's place
One long breath is enough
To release new dancers twirling out in haste
From one seed so weak yet tough
New flowers burst across the waste.
A seed of love is so powerful it can push its roots into the hard, unforgiving surface of indifference and hate. It has the strength to continue to grow even in the face of disappointment, defeat, criticism, depression or crushing evil. The conviction to bloom its beautiful yellow flower, though others think it is a weed, to hold its head high in celebration of all God has given us.
Or in the words of scripture:
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
Not then. Not now. Not ever.