If you attended worship on the Sunday before Christmas, the fourth of Advent and then came for one of the Christmas Eve services, you may have noticed that the cross and the communion table went from being covered in blue to being covered in white. Stephen and I wore white stoles. You’ll see that the white remains even though it’s been nearly two weeks since Christmas. The liturgical colour of white—liturgy or liturgical, by the way, is just a fancy way of referring to religious ceremony or ritual—the colour marking this particular religious service that we find ourselves participating together in today is white. Today, along with hundreds of other churches around the world, we use white to recognize that today marks a significant day in the life of Jesus. We use white marking his birth, baptism, resurrection. And we use white today because it is Epiphany—the day on which the coming of the Messiah was revealed to the Gentiles, to those who were not of the Jewish faith.
There are so many aspects of the Epiphany section of the nativity story that we can consider. Who exactly were the ones that saw the star and why were they thought to be so wise? What was Herod’s deal in being so worried about the birth of a vulnerable baby? And what about the meeting with Herod had the Wise Men so concerned that they defied his orders to return to him after they met the baby who was to become the Light of the world? Today, let us look at what the different characters of this story did when it became apparent to them that God would become manifest as light, hope and love in a time ruled by uncertainty, angst and fear. Let us look at what epiphanies each group of them experienced upon the birth of the Christ Child.
Which brings us to Herod. You don’t really get a sense of how much he’s freaking out with the arrival of the Wise Men asking where the baby had been born but something was off because the Wise Men did not return to him after meeting the holy child, as he had instructed them to do. This suspicion is affirmed in the next set of readings in which Herod has a melt-down and orders all male children under the age of two to be killed. But in our reading today, it is enough to know the Wise Men do not trust Herod enough to return to him. The fear of the one who was to shepherd the people of Israel must of seeped out of him when he met with the Magi. And being as wise as they were, these men from the east surely understood how threatened Herod would have felt with the possibility of the prophecy of a king greater than he from long past coming true.
The dark is not inherently a bad place to be but there is no doubt that our instinct is to look for light—any light whatever form it might take when we are uncomfortable, sad or feeling trapped. Sometimes it’s literal light. When I was in Toronto for a conference in November I came down with the flu. I was alone in my hotel room feeling incredibly sorry for myself. I knew I needed to sleep but everything just felt so awful, I didn’t want to be alone in the dark of my hotel room. So, I turned the lamp onto its lowest setting and turned the TV onto CNN at a very low volume. It was the mid-term elections in the States. The glow of the lamp and the low voices of the TV together created the Light I needed to get through that one night of the worst illness I can ever remember having. The Light, though, can be so much more than a glow in the dark. When a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with a very serious condition a few years ago, it was just about Advent. Once word got out that he was going to have surgery that would require months of recovery, the men of the church choir that he sang with showed up at his home and hung the Christmas lights. Casseroles were prepared and frozen so his wife could tend to his needs. People drove him to and from appointments. Visits were timed so his wife could rest. His physical healing would take a lot of time, but his soul found healing in the love that was shown unconditionally to him. The Light he needed to surround him at his darkest hour was made manifest in the actions of his neighbours, his fellow church members, his colleagues and his family.