St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-31-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-31-2017

Not Just Any Light

Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 148, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I can remember, way back in my childhood, learning about the stars in the night sky from my father. One of the many things he taught me, besides identifying the constellations, was how to find the North Star. It’s really easy, you know, if you can find the Big Dipper and imagine a line through the two stars at the end opposite the handle, that line will also cross the North Star.

Dad also taught me the importance of using that star for navigation. It is a bright star, easy to pick out, and it is the only star seen in the northern hemisphere that doesn’t change its position, from the viewer’s point of view, with the passing of time. For millennium, it has been used by sailors to know which way north was and also, by measuring its angle above the horizon, determining how far north or south they were in the ocean. For longer still, people walking at night have used it to keep their bearing when there was no other visible landmark.

I also remember, from those days, being able to see the Milky-way in any clear night; A treat that I now only experience when traveling far away from the greatly increased urban street lights and the ever present, pale orange, glow of the lights at the Limerick nuclear power plant.

It is sad, to me, that I am now so limited in observing the wondrous vastness of our universe; only being able to see a few thousand of the brightest stars compared to the millions that once were visible.

It makes me wonder, if the Star of Bethlehem were to appear today, would anyone even notice it.

While contemplating this a few days ago I also became aware of how our reliance on light, necessary to see things in what would otherwise be darkness, has as well diminished our ability to see outside our homes. This realization came to me when I noticed our outdoor, motion sensor activated, light came on unexpectedly one night and I had to turn off the indoor light to be able to see through the window to see what was moving outside.

It struck me as being incredibly odd that our reliance on artificial light to see better has actually narrowed what we can see; from contemplating the universe, down to only our neighborhood, and that shrunken to the interior of our own home, and even that sometimes squeezed down to only our illuminated cell phone screen.

It makes me wonder, if Christ returned today with the glory of God shining around him, would anyone even notice.

Unfortunately, light pollution isn’t our greatest problem in the world today. In the literal sense, yes, light pollution prevents us from seeing very far beyond our immediate surroundings. But, in the metaphorical sense, where we think of Christ as the light of the world, we have an even greater problem.

As John writes, in his Gospel,

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” (John 1:9-12 NRSV).

This “true light” which “enlightens everyone” is, by definition, referring to enlightenment, the giving and receiving of greater knowledge, understanding, or insight. And in this case, with Christ being the Son of God not the son of humanity, we are talking about greater spiritual knowledge, understanding, and insight.

Christ is, indeed our light to the ways of God and to understanding what God wants us to be and how God wants us to act; not only toward him but toward our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, and even to our enemies. This is truth; this is the true light and it can all be found in the New Testament of our Bibles.

Sadly, over the thousands of years since the writing of the books of the New Testament, well meaning yet misguided men have tried to further enlighten us with commentary on those original writings. In so doing, a few have exposed some insightful facts that help us better understand what is being said. But so many, usually those who believed themselves to be given the gift of infallibility, have inserted their own human knowledge, understanding, and insight that, if not contrary to, at the very least diminishes the teaching of Christ.

Add to this the advancement of science since the time of Christ, and our ever increasing reliance on it, and we may perceive a greater light shining. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I am not adverse to scientific progress and I am certainly not a science denier. Science has done many wonderful things toward helping us understand the world and make living life in it much less threatening, but it isn’t offering us spiritual knowledge, understanding, and insight. (Not yet anyway, we’ll see what the future brings).

More specifically, add the insights of psychology, a field of science, and the greater understanding of the workings of the human mind it offers us. Again, wonderful things are done for us through this improved knowledge; but it is not in relation to spiritual knowledge, understanding, and insight.

Just one more, think of how we rely on political powers to enlighten us. Especially in this modern age, we depend on our leaders to keep us informed of and safe from outside forces that would seek to do us harm; we allow them to inform us as to who we should love or who we should hate; and we count on them to hold our nation in the light of unity. To do that, we even give them power to make moral decisions on our behalf that, too often, do not contribute to greater spiritual knowledge, understanding, and insight.

All this enlightenment of human understanding, science, political power and so much more are ok, in fact they are usually good; these other lights are necessary; we need to be aware of what is going on in the world around us and how to deal with it all as it is. But we must not mistake them for, nor let them blind us to, the one true light that reveals to us greater spiritual knowledge, understanding, and insight as it should be. Dim those other lights so that you can notice the glorious light of Christ still shining in our world!   Amen.


Isaiah 61:10-62:3
61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.
62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.
62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm 148
148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!
148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Galatians 4:4-7
4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.
4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Luke 2:22-40 2:22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
2:23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),
2:24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.
2:26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
2:27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,
2:28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
2:29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
2:30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
2:31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
2:33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.
2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed
2:35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
2:37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.
2:38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
2:39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
2:40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.