Lectionary Lab PREMIUM Edition for the Epiphany/Baptism of the Lord, Year A
January 8, 2023
Thoughts on the Texts by John Fairless
My thinking brain is still a bit on holiday speed, and there’ll be more stuff as the New Year progresses. But a couple of “quick hitters” for this Epiphany/Baptism Sunday.
The classic epiphany text from Matthew’s gospel sets up excellent opportunities to work with ideas surrounding light, stars, guidance, and finding the way. These are “evergreen” sermon ideas in that they work year after year, in pretty much every time and place.
Light shines in darkness — and, as John’s gospel reminds us — always overcomes it. So, light is generally considered to be a good thing. However, light also exposes things to our view — things that were formerly hidden or covered up. This can be a scary thing, too.
Herod is certainly frightened by the light shed from the news of the magi; a new king? What the what? How am I going to deal with a new situation that might well upset my personal applecart? We can identify a bit with Herod, can’t we?
The magi are not necessarily on a quest of certainty, either. They were intrigued by this strange star (heavenly conjunction, alignment of the planets, supernatural expression, etc.) — but just has to follow wherever it led them. They were figuring the whole thing out as they went along.
There was for them — as is true for us — just enough light for the next step. God doesn’t tend to give detailed road maps (or full GPS directions) when asking us to set out on our faith journeys, either.
As mentioned on this week’s podcast, even the story of Jesus’ baptism can be seen as a “next step” for the Lord himself. He knew he needed to get to John and be baptized, but beyond that, Jesus was to be led by the Spirit and had to seek his own path every day.
We’ll have enough light for our paths, even in the midst of darkness (you can’t really “see” the stars unless it’s dark, you know.) Things that are hidden will be revealed; the future is unfolding and we’ll have to find it by faith. But, as the voice from heaven proclaimed, God is pleased with God’s children that step out and follow the light. A bit scary, but God’s got this!
Sermon by Delmer Chilton
I was once deep in the stacks of the graduate library at UNC-Chapel Hill during a power outage. I was surrounded by total darkness. And I was not only in the dark; I was also lost, with no idea of where I was or how to get out. At first, when I thought it would be over in a few minutes, it was interesting. Hmm, so this is what total lack of light is like. Then it got a little funny as I heard people trying to move around followed by loud bumps and crashes and muffled curses. But as time went on it got very annoying and not a little frightening.
Finally I spotted a small beam of light. I yelled out, “Stay still, I’ll come to you,” for I knew it was easier for me to go to the light than it was for the person with the light to search for me, especially when no one even knew I was there. I found my way to the library assistant by following the beams of his little keychain penlight. Together we found the staircase and worked our way out of the darkness into the light. Afterward, I kept thinking “It’s amazing how little light we need sometimes.” Like the magi, who only needed the pinpoint of a new star to find their way to Jesus.
The world can seem an awful dark place sometimes. Things like the ongoing Covid pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the unrelenting negativity of American politics, economic trouble all over the world, etc., burden us with doubts about the reality of God or the potential for goodness of humanity. Our personal lives can also be dark. Strained relationships, economic troubles, loved ones sick or dying or both; marriages or careers or children that haven’t worked out quite the way we’d planned.
We do what we can to push back the darkness. Some people give in to addictions, numbing their pain with their addiction of choice. Others embrace philosophy or practice politics, believing and hoping that by thinking right or doing right they can cure their sickness unto death; that by saving the snail-darter they can somehow save their very souls.