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 Isaiah 60:1-6

When was the last time you experienced a black-out? No electricity, fumbling for an alternative light source, disorienting, frozen in anxiety. What now? How do I find my way? I’m lost! “Thick darkness” comes in many shapes out of many locales – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Emerging from stormy life seas can be foggy, slow, infuriating, depressing, grief or rage-filled. Such black-outs are compounded when shared across time and space by whole swaths of humanity. What now? How do we find our way? We’re lost! Every human generation seems to encounter thick darkness at one point or another. The rolling clouds of war, catastrophe, oppression, global pandemic, racism, classism, sexism, ablism (read here, any ‘ism’ that disrupts God’s intentions for us) climate destruction and the list goes on and on and on. These ‘before and after’ wrinkles in time mark our measurements for how we understand who we are in time. The exiled in Judah where no different – waiting in Babylon for the permission to return home – disoriented entirely from their familiar patterns for culture, worship, governance. This ancient wisdom from the prophet Isaiah offers us a vision of God’s command that splits the darkness of our times with the glory of redeeming light – like a lamp in the center of our last and desperate hope. But it is not just the promise of God’s presence with us in thick darkness: it is an invitation, an imperative in fact, to participate with and devote ourselves to the dawning light. “Arise and shine” the scriptures say. God’s light is arrived, it is risen, it has appeared, it is here and shining and ours for the reflecting. “For your light has come… risen upon you… will rise upon you… appear over you… nations will come to your light… and kings the to brightness of your dawn… lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you…”

If and when God’s beloved people choose to cooperate with the glorious rising light of love it is prophesied we shall see, we shall be radiant, our hearts will indeed thrill at the sight and rejoice. With this piercing light all thick darkness parts, because abundance is ours for the receiving and reveling and healing and giving away.

The exchange of light for darkness is not an internal gift, meant for the receivers alone. It is for the nations. Healing for everyone is the heart and soul of the season of epiphany. A season of revealing truth, piercing hope, unfiltered knowing. God’s light, God’s glory, God’s love and redemption and healing and reconciliation – it is not just for the insiders. God’s love is for all. And no one is excluded as a revelatory missionary of this truth – outsiders, foreigners, marginalized, women, the least expected, highly unsavory, most despised of characters are all able to reveal the up-side down way of God’s dream on earth.

Jesus, the incarnation of God’s love on earth, is one such before and after epiphany-in-the-flesh that changes entirely how we interpret and experience our shared humanity. Our participation as image-bearers is set on the trajectory of the vulnerable, interdependent radiance. Jesus is for the outsiders, for the un-included, for the not-good-enough and un-holy because he belonged to the least of these. The darkness is thick, but it is not obliterating. God’s people cannot and will not escape the disorientation of the shadows of human existence. Being alive means we will experience the both/and of human existence: beauty and ugliness; love and fear, light and darkness; joy and disturbance; healing and pain. Epiphany doesn’t pretend the darkness doesn’t exist, it gives us the star-maps and promises us a way through. One of paternal grandmother’s favorite poems was by Minnie Louise Haskins. King George IV quoted it in his 1939 Christmas broadcast to the British Empire, on the eve of yet another cloud of thick darkness for the human family. (The poem was written in 1908 and privately published in 1912; it was part of a collection titled The Desert).

“God Knows. And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’ So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”

It is a natural response to ask for a light when we do not know where we are going, the the unknown looms ambiguous and intimidating. But the prophet Isaiah’s call to us this Epiphany is to receive the luminous hand of God, to Arise and shine for that ‘breaking of day’ is the truth of God’s presence as sure as the rising sun in the East. It will guide the nations, welcome the wounded, heal the lost. And the healing gifts, prophesied by Isaiah and fulfilled in the gifts of the traveling magi, are abundant provision for just such an outcast family as Jesus’ and ours. Even in thick darkness, the precious hand of God is better than light and safer than a known way. Arise, shine for our light has come.