Sunday, January 4, 2015

Your Light Has Come (January 4, 2015)

Your Light Has Come
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
January 4, 2015[1]

I have a very vague memory of standing outside with my parents when I was a kid.  We were looking up at the nighttime sky.  I vaguely remember them pointing to what looked to me to be a small star.  They pointed as they watched it track across the sky.  They said it was a satellite called Sputnik.  To me, it just looked like a star.

Two separate evenings within the past two weeks, Carol and I watched the International Space Station.  I watched it track across the sky, from horizon to horizon, in just about six minutes.  It looked almost like a plane, but the lights were not flashing.  It was larger than I expected, and it looked like it was flying much lower than I expected.  There was no way I could tell from where I stood that the space station is roughly the size of a football field, with a truss length of 357.5 feet, a module length of 167.3 feet, solar panels with a length of 239.4 feet.  The living space is the size of a six-bedroom house.  The ISS orbits at an altitude of 205 miles, and circles the earth 15.5 times each day.  The astronauts aboard the ISS celebrated the New Year 16 times.[2]  It is a cooperative effort among the world’s space agencies.  Unlike the days of Sputnik, which launched an international space competition between the US and the Soviet Union, astronauts from the US and Russia fly side by side.  We have come a long way!

I was fascinated by the Space Station—partly because I really don’t know very much about astronomy.  The Magi appear to have been far more knowledgeable that I am about objects in the sky.  They were able to look and perceive that this particular object in the heavens was quite different.  They were able to identify it, and they followed it.  They knew that the light of that star identified the arrival of a New King, and they followed the Light.

What a great message for us as we begin this new year of 2015:  to look up, to see, to recognize the Light, and to follow that Light. 

Our reading from the Prophet Isaiah urges the people returning from seventy years of exile in Babylon to “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).    The prophet wrote these words to a people who had longed to return home.  The good news was that they were home.  The bad news was that home was no longer the place that their parents and grandparents had told them about.  It was run down.  The closest thing that I have experienced to this was when I first went to New Orleans after Katrina and saw the devastation that took a once-proud city and absolutely wasted parts of it.

The prophet is writing to bring hope to a people still in despair.  It’s as though he builds on the foundation of hope that was pronounced to the Children of Israel while still living in Babylon—“the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2) and promised them that their best days were yet to come.  The prophet speaks of a future in which the kings of the world would be drawn back to Israel.   “A multitude of camels shall cover you” and multitudes from Sheba shall come bringing gifts of gold and frankincense … and will praise the name of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6).
Is it any wonder that Matthew’s words come to mind about kings visiting the child, bearing gifts of gold and frankincense?  And yet Matthew adds to the gift list a somewhat somber one—a gift of myrrh—and oil used for embalming.  It’s almost as if Matthew knew the words that we read from Adam Hamilton:  “Christmas and Easter are a package deal.”[3]  The future would be bright, although it would not be quite what they expected!

As we begin the New Year, it is a good time to look to the future—not to live in the future, but to let the future illuminate our journey today.  Dr. Laurence J. Peter is quoted as saying, “if you don’t know where you are going you will probably end up somewhere else.”[4]  So when I look to the future in the beginning of a new year, I don’t so much start with a bunch of resolutions—exercise more, be a better person—but rather I examine where I am headed.  What direction am I going?  And Jesus’ proclamation that He is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) gives me more than sufficient light for my journey.

So I have spent some time asking myself, “Where are you going this year?  In what direction are you traveling?  What guides you?  What light illuminates your Journey as you begin this New Year?  What light are you following?

It is a very personal question.  I used to think that people should give stock answers—like the movie Miss Congeniality, in which all the contestants say that they want “World Peace.”  But the truth is:  we may want similar things, but we each are taking different journeys.  My journey is not the same as yours; and yours is not the same as mine.  My calling is not your calling; and yours is not the same as mine. 

It so happens that I am a pastor; so my journey is going to take me on a path with some waypoints that you might expect from a pastor.  But don’t think for a moment that I am offering glib answers to the journey question.  When I offer my direction publicly, I am looking, in part, for accountability—for you to keep me honest.

Not surprisingly, many of my hopes for 2015 include my hopes for Cunningham as a church.  I hope and dream that in 2015, we will continue to welcome new families into our faith fellowship, that we will continue to be a place that reaches out to the community in the largest sense, offering hope.  I look forward to introducing more people to Jesus Christ.  I look forward to continued giving to missions, to mission trips where more and more of you get personally involved in bringing Christ’s love to a world in need.  I look forward to continued progress in our Planning for our Future, finishing up our plans so we can raise money and put a shovel in the ground.  I look forward to further refining our Second Service so we can enthusiastically offer another worship alternative to Fluvanna County.  I look forward to more music—music in which we can sing our faith, sing our prayers, sing our joy.

But most of all, I am really excited to think about 2015 as a year in which I journey with Jesus.  I don’t just mean starting the day with a quick 10 or 15 minute devotional before I get busy with other things.  I mean walking with Jesus all day long.  Developing a conscious awareness that wherever I go, Jesus is walking with me.  Whatever conversation I am having, Jesus is part of the conversation.  Every time I try to do something for Jesus, to know that He is cheering me on.  To know that every time I forget about Him, He sees me.  Every time I deny Him, He hears me.  To practice His presence—taking out of the realm of the abstract and seeing Christ in every person I talk to, every homeless person I pass by on the streets, every sick person I visit, everyone sitting in the pews as I preach.  But then every once in a while, I take a reality check on myself.

I attended a seminar in Washington, D.C. yesterday.  During this seminar, I was really challenged by two discussion questions.

1.            How much of myself am I willing to give to the Lord this year?  I want to say to Jesus, “I will go wherever you want me to go, I will say what you want me to say.”  Then I remember Jesus told one “would-be” follower that foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.  Am I really willing to follow Jesus that much?  This brings me to the second question that challenged me:

2.            What am I holding back?  One of my spiritual mentors often says that God can only occupy the space in our hearts that we make available to Him.  If we fill our hearts and lives with other things, we don’t leave much room for God.  What am I holding on to that crowds God out of my life?

Part of me wants to learn what it means to love like Jesus loves.  I’m a bit afraid of this idea, because Jesus loved so much that it hurt—it killed Him.  I don’t know if I am really ready to go this whole distance.  To love in this way really costs.  But I wonder--what it would mean, what difference would it make in this world, if I could love the way Jesus loved.

What about you?  As you have considered your hopes and dreams for the New Year, where are you going?  How has your Journey with Jesus factored into your plans?  How much of yourself are you willing to give to Jesus this year?  What are you holding back?

It isn’t so much a question of dollars and cents (even though we are receiving your pledge cards this morning).  It’s a question of heart and soul.  It’s a question of treasure.  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

I am looking for companions on my Journey.  Companions who will keep me honest and who are seeking the same from me.  Companions who will join in the journey with Jesus, experiencing His presence every moment of every day. 

You see, the Christian life is not only about what happens to us when we die, although that is an important part of it; but it’s also about our journey while we are living.  Which way are you headed this morning?  I invite you to go with me on the journey—the Journey with Jesus.  But you won’t travel just with me; I hope you will find yourself traveling with the One who promised to be with us “to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20).  May it be so!

Copyright © 2015 by Thomas E. Frost.  All rights reserved.

[1] Preached on Epiphany Sunday (the Second Sunday after Christmas) at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia.
[2] See “International Space Station:  Off the Earth, for the Earth.”  Viewed on the internet on January 4, 2015 at 
[3] Adam Hamilton, Not a Silent Night (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2014).