January 6, 2019 Epiphany and Communion
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Happy New Year! It is always a bit unsettling at the beginning of a New Year isn’t it? You know how the old one was and regardless of whether you consider it a good one or a bad one, there is something reassuring about last year. We all survived it! We are still here!
Not so much for the new one: no-one knows how it will play out or end. And most people don’t do well with the unknown!
And here we are on the first Sunday of 2019 worshiping God who we believe approached us in Jesus Christ to show us that we are loved; a God who comforts us by saying “fear not”, who assures us that we are not alone because Jesus is Immanuel God-with-us, and who invites us to be God’s people to spread God’s love and goodwill to all people.
Yes, we worship a God who is actively involved in human history. I am not suggesting that God is involved like a computer programmer programming a system to do exactly what she wants the program to do. No, God is actively involved in a special, Divine kind of way: God created human beings with the ability to make decisions, to know the difference between good and evil, with the ability to reciprocally respond to God and others. God created human beings as the crown of God’s creation, called to take care of the earth, to look out for others, to live as representatives of God, made in God’s image.
God gave human beings free will to make decisions, giving them so much freedom that they can even decide to turn their backs unto God.
And after God created this universe and human beings, God did not retreat from the creation. As a matter of fact, God stayed involved, choosing Israel to show the world what God’s Divine intentions are for God’s creation. In this long, interesting and mostly male dominated history God called people, mostly men, but on occasion also women, to share God’s vision for the world.
These men, and women, often called prophets, guided by God’s Spirit dreamed remarkable and astonishing dreams. They, with the light of God’s Spirit, envisioned a world that is very different from the one they lived in every day. They imagined a world, unlike the one they were part of even as most of their contemporaries accepted it the way it was. Sometimes there were people who would oppose the dreams and visions of these men and women. The prophets with their divine visions and dreams about God’s future did not always have it easy: At times they were mocked, at times they were shunned and accused as traitors and there were times when they were silenced.
But God’s Spirit kept their dreams and visions alive in word and in spirit. And when next generations heard and read their visions and dreams, they too, under the guidance of the Spirit were moved by them. They in fact discovered in these old visions and dreams God’s own voice, God’s own dream. And then they too imagined a new world that would reflect God’s original plan.
Many centuries ago a young man, Isaiah was guided by God to dream about a world that was different from the one he and others lived in. His world was a dangerous and violent one, one of constant tension and war between neighboring nations, people fighting for land and resources. Enemies with different religions and customs were constantly preparing for and engaging in war. The outcome was that all of them, in spite of having their armies and warhorses, lived in perpetual fear and distrust. And the fact was that their fears were often rooted in reality. Being involved in some kind of conflict back then was a way of life. And almost everyone accepted such a world as normal! Unchangeable and preordained!
But then Isaiah, son of Amoz, guided by God’s Spirit envisioned a new and different world. And he shared a divine dream with his people: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
It was a dream so fantastic, so improbable, that most people ignored it. It was not realistic and quite frankly dangerous!
But the dream lived on in spite of resistance. It stayed alive in spite of wars being fought, it stayed alive, marginally, during the time the Babylonians invaded their capital, Jerusalem and destroyed their temple. It almost was forgotten when they were taken as prisoners to the enemies’ capital Babylon.
But years later another young man, we don’t know his name but the tradition has him as Isaiah too, dreamed another unlikely dream: “in spite of darkness, your light will attract nations and kings will come to you. Powerful people will come to you and they will bring you gifts of gold and frankincense!”
Dreams of a better world, dreams of a world without weapons of destruction, a new world of peace and harmony, people coexisting with enough to eat, with purpose and joy to live meaningful lives, reconciled with God and with others, with all people being treated with respect and dignity. A world where orphans and widows are taken care off, a world where there is no oppression, violence and injustice or as Amos says, a world where people “seek good and not evil, a world where people hate evil and love good and where justice is established in the gate.” A world, where, in the words of another dreamer, Joel “young people shall prophecy and see visions”, in other words they will share their dreams, “and old men shall dream dreams”.
And the visions or dreams of prophets are kept alive in spite of resistance, in spite of calls to be realistic, in spite of the fact that their dreams were often seen as far-fetch and fantastic.
And when Jesus was born, centuries after these prophets had shared their dreams and visions, the New Testament remembered and embraced their dreams. And they connect the old dreams with a compelling new message: “The dreams and visions of old are fulfilled in Jesus, God’s Son who entered this world as a baby!”
Yes, the New Testament picks up this tradition. Matthew makes no secret that the wise men who brought the baby gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s dream.
Today is Epiphany. Today we remember the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.
In terms of our sermon theme, we could say that today is a reminder that God’s dreams and ideals for our world are now gentiles’ dreams as well. We too have become part of God’s people. The dreams and visions of the men of old, the prophets and seers of the OT, have become our dreams and visions too. We too have seen the light that shines in the darkness.
At the beginning of this new year, on this Sunday of Epiphany it is in order to ask ourselves a few questions:
Do we still dream of a better world or do we take the world as it as inevitable and not going to change?
Do we embrace the dreams of Isaiah, Joel, Amos, Micha and others of a new and better world? A world where weapons of warfare is made into plowshares and pruning hooks to provide food. How do we feel about the old prophets’ dreams of a world of justice and peace, a place where one has to care with compassion for the widows and orphans? Do we dream with them or do we respond by saying: “be realistic or come on, that is a dangerous thought!”
Do we embrace the dreams of Jesus who dreamed of a world where people would love and pray for enemies, turn the other cheek, walk another mile and be the least? Or are we lured into a vision of a world where if you are attacked you strike back harder, a world where if you show compassion it may be seen as a sign of weakness? A world where only the fittest survive?
God gives us freedom to make decisions. This new year will provide us with many opportunities to decide. When everything is said and done everything will boil down to two questions: “Do I dream divine dreams of a new world that is in line with the visions of those who came before us? Or do I accept the world as it is?” Accepting the world as it is, is the easy option. However, aligning ourselves with the dreams and visions of the prophets and of Jesus, is a challenge and it may even be dangerous. But as people who worship God, how can we not dream and work for a world that God envisioned? Amen