Today, we come to the end of our journey through Narnia and the Christmas season with the celebration of Epiphany.
The word Epiphany means “an appearance or manifestation” and on the twelfth day after Christmas, it is a celebration of the manifestation of God’s love in human form… and of all of those people to whom the good news was first revealed: the shepherds at Christmas, Anna and Simeon in the temple, and the wise men who followed the star and journeyed from afar to worship the Christ Child.
As Matthew tells the story, these magi followed a star in the sky – a light in the midst of the darkness – in order to find this Messiah. And that glimmer of light and hope reminded Matthew of another time of darkness and the promise of God that Isaiah shared with the Israelites.
Arise! Shine! For your light has come… though darkness covers the earth and gloom the nations, the Lord will shine upon you… Nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning radiance. (60:1-3)
In Matthew’s eyes, it wasn’t a star in the sky at all, but the light of Christ himself, revealed to the entire world, that pulled those magi over mountains and deserts and seas to the countryside surrounding Jerusalem. He may have been a tiny infant in his mother’s arms, but in the words of John’s gospel – the light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.
To appreciate why this was good news, we can’t pass too quickly over the darkness in these stories. We like to focus on the beautiful image of wise and powerful men bowed down before a humble and poor baby. But in our scripture today, forces of death and violence, power and pride and lurking around every corner.
You see, in between the appearance of the star in the sky and their encounter with the Jesus, the magi found themselves on the doorsteps of power.
King Herod was an appointed ruler who had been chosen from among his fellow Jews because he was willing to betray them and serve the Romans. His had been named a leader by the Roman Mark Antony to support the governor of Galilee, but through political maneuvering and not a little bit of money, scheming and treachery, he had climbed as high as he could – and now happily sat in Jerusalem as the “king of the mountain.”
Relationships for him were always about what the connection could get for him. He banished his first wife and child in order to marry the granddaughter of an elite in Rome. And he grew to be jealous of his second wife Mariamne, eventually executing her for adultery; he eventually married five different times. He killed his brother-in-law on charges of conspiracy, and then later his sons by Mariamne because he no longer trusted them.
In the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch reminds me of that cold, insecure figure Herod.
As Heidi Haverkamp reminds in the devotional for this season, the Witch’s castle was cold and full of statues of people the witch had turned to stone. The only living creature besides the White Witch who resided there was her Wolf Captain Maugrim. She couldn’t trust anyone and so her castle was empty and lonely.
And she, too, feared a threat to her power and hold over the land.
There had been prophecies in Narnia, after all about the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve and how one day they would sit on the throne of Cair Paravel. When she came upon Edmund, all alone in the woods one day, she very nearly turned him into stone on the spot… until she realized she could use him for more information and to tempt the rest of his siblings to her castle and kill them all at once.
She arrested and tried the faun, Mr. for “fraternizing with Humans,” just as she did any who sought to oppose her reign.
The White Witch responded to the news of these children who would be Kings and Queens in the same way that Herod did… with intrigue, lies, and a heart bent on destruction.
What is the danger of a baby? Or of four little children to a powerful king or queen?
The danger is in what they represent and the threat to the future.
And the danger is that there are people in this world who are willing to resist their oppression and power… people who are willing to follow a star and choose another way.
The magi from the East arrive in Jerusalem… and instead of bowing down before King Herod, they want to worship, to bow down, to pay homage to someone else.
And this season invites us to honor God and not the powers of this world. To honor love and not fear. Mercy not judgment. This season invites us to let go of our power and offer of ourselves, rather than taking what we think belongs to us.
Isaiah’s prophecy calls out: Arise! Shine! Lift up your Eyes!
That is a whole lot of exclamation points.
And Isaiah isn’t just inviting the people living in exile to hear the words… he is commanding them to live differently.
As Rev. Marci Glass writes:
“Isaiah’s audience knew all about the darkness of the world. They knew the despair of exile. They knew what it was like to look around and say, ‘ the problems are so big. What can one person do?’
The Christmas season is a time of joy and hope and peace, and I truly pray that each and every one of you were able to glimpse that spirit of Christmas in these last few weeks.
But just as the Christmas decorations begin to be put away, the cold harsh reality of the world hits us. We find ourselves right back where we were before this season of consumer frenzy, perhaps with emptier pockets and fuller bellies, but back in reality nonetheless.
And maybe we start to ask that question: what can one person do?
In the wake of yet another mass shooting in our country this week in Fort Lauterdale, what can we do to stop it?
In the face of loved ones battling illness and injury, how can we make the pain go away?
Perhaps we are left wondering what all of it was really for. Are we just rehearsing the Spirit of Christmas, much like we get out the decorations and put them away again when the time has passed? Is our hope in the pomp and circumstance? the beautifully wrapped presents? the music? or is our hope in something else? Something that will sustain us long after the wreaths have come off the door?
Arise! Shine! Lift Up Your Eyes!
The magi in the East recognized that this star was leading them on a journey into the unknown. And they willingly chose to follow that star.
This epiphany, I want to invite you to follow the star.
I want to invite you to seek out light in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of despair.
And I want to invite you to share the light of that star with others.
And just like the magi, I want to invite you to not only be willing to offer your gifts with God… but I want to invite you to be open to what God might be giving to you in this journey.
As we come forward in just a few minutes for our time of response and offering, I want to invite you to come to this basket and select a star. Don’t over think it… just reach in and take one.
Every star has a word on it. And I want to invite you to think about how that word, that star, might speak to your life this year.
Stick the star to your refrigerator or bathroom mirror. Put it in your devotional for when you do daily prayers. Place that star somewhere you might see it each and every day so that you can remember, whenever you lift up your eyes, that God is guiding you.
I want to invite you to remember that what you do with the light that has shined in your life does matter.
The creatures of Narnia embraced the small role they could play and they stood up to the power of the White Witch and she was defeated.
Even Edmund, who had turned his back on those he loved, found that one simple action could dramatically alter the course of events.
The magi from the east refused to bow to the demands of Herod and chose another way home.
God is calling you to Arise! Shine! And Lift up your eyes to see can do through you.
Ever-patient God, Help us be people of the light, shining your light of righteousness, peace, and joy into all the dark places of our lives and world.
Turn our aimless wanderings into a journey of purpose guided by your star.
Let the light break into our lives and our world, and transform us into people of the light.
Follow the star!