Sunday, January 5, 2014
"Looking For God In All The Wrong Places"
"The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men" - Titus 2
There was a man who lost his keys and he was looking for them at the edge of the street in front of his yard right underneath a street lamp. His neighbor saw him across the way and walked over to see if he could help. After a few minutes he finally said to him, “Uh, where exactly do you think you dropped your keys?” "In the house." "Well, why are you looking for them out here?" "Because the light's better out here."
I remember a popular song on the radio when I was a kid - "looking for love in all the wrong places." Well, now it seems people are looking for god in all the wrong places.
Stories abound today of visions, sightings, appearings, apparitions ...
There is a popular Youtube video called "Finally Tonight, Jesus" in which newscasters from across the country document all of the so-called "sightings" around the country of Jesus and/or the Virgin Mary. The images are found on such things as a spoon, a door, a floor, a frying pan, a telephone pole, a potato chip, a grilled cheese sandwich, a pancake, a waffle, a cinnamon roll, burnt toast, fish stick, and yes, even a cheeto. As you watch it, you don't know whether to laugh or cry.
There are apparitions like this in every country of the world, and one of the more famous is of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.
The story goes that on the morning of December 9, 1531, a peasant farmer named Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City. The girl asked that a church be built at that very site in her honor. Juan Diego recognized the girl as the Virgin Mary, and he
went and told his story to the Archbishop of Mexico City, who instructed him to return to the hill and ask the "lady" for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. So he went to see the lady again, and when he came back to the archbishop, he opened up his cloak and on the fabric was the image of
the Virgin of Guadalupe.
This image is now on display at the Basilica of our Lady of Guadelupe in Mexico City. I've actually been to this cathedral and seen it, and let me tell you, its a pretty bizarre experience. After standing in line for a long time, you actually have to get on one of those people mover things like at the airport because there are so many people who are there to see it and they don't want anyone standing around for too long, so they try to keep people moving. But people are bowing and weeping and having a real emotional experience seemingly separate from any kind of worship to God or Christ, but merely because it is an important pilgrimage site ... the site of the appearance of Guadelupe.
Aside from all of these so-called "appearances", God has made His appearance - His ultimate appearance - at the first Christmas with the birth of His Son in Bethlehem. As a result, Christmas should be a season of endless wonder, worship, and praise! And yet, for many these days Christmastime has become just a litany of appearances. The season becomes crushed by shopping sprees, social gatherings, and endless parties. Before you know it, Christmas fatigue sets in, and often by the second or third Sunday in Advent. Divine worship becomes just another “holiday event” to attend. People go and make their appearance but can easily grow subtly indifferent about the birth of the Savior of the World.
By now one may wonder, what more can be said? There are 12 days of Christmas after all - and today is the last day. Do I really still need to go to church? Haven't I already made my appearance? What more can be said anyway? Believe me, there is a whole lot more to say - there's always more to be said about the greatest event in the history of the world. And no matter what time of year, we all need what God has to offer us.
Because the fact is, without Christmas, we're all doomed. We are all hopeless and helpless without God’s divine intervention. Fortunately, God's redemption has come - God has appeared on the scene - He has made his appearance - first in Bethlehem - then in Nazareth, Galilee, Capernaum, the Jordan River, Jerusalem, Bethany, Emmaus, in the temple, at the cross, through the empty tomb, in the upper room, along the seashore, upon the mountain, up into heaven, on the Damascus road, on the island of Patmos, in His Word, through His church, yes, God has made His appearance alright! He has appeared to us in the person and work of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. God's redemption has come. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. The Word remains flesh and dwells among us even here today.
God’s redemption has come for all humanity to see, touch, and hear. It is no illusion conjured in the hearts and minds of men. God has come - He has made His appearance in Jesus. Simeon says it so beautifully as he takes the Savior in his arms and says, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
And so begins the Epiphany Season. "Epiphany” means appearing, revealing, or making manifest.
In the eastern church Epiphany is actually the day they celebrate Christmas. In the west we celebrate Epiphany as the visit of the magi, those mysterious magi who came from the east to worship Jesus and to present their gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.
Epiphany is called the “Christmas of the Gentiles,” because the magi were the first Gentile worshippers of the Messiah. Until then the only ones to worship Jesus were Israelites. Mary and Joseph, a bunch of shepherds from around Bethlehem, and Simeon and Anna in the temple. But the magi were Persians, probably from Babylon. They were about as non-Israelite, Gentile as you could get. Yet they too come to worship the Child and acknowledge Him as God and King. Since most of us don’t have a drop of Jewish blood in us, this is a big day for us too. So if you still want to hang on to Christmas, go ahead for another week. You don’t have to pack it in just yet. It's Epiphany - Christmas for the outsiders, the Gentiles. The Baby born to Mary is the world’s baby, and today the world sends it’s wise men to worship Him. Wise men still seek him...
Epiphany is where we get the Christmas star, the Christmas lights, the whole notion of giving gifts. Epiphany is God’s way of saying, “Hey Gentiles. It's okay. He’s here for you too. Come and worship.” He's the Redeemer of the nations, He's God's gift to the world, He is the Lord and Savior of all. Though there may be many “religions” in the world, there is only one Way, one Truth, one Light and Life of the world. God has only one Son, and His Name is Jesus. God is merciful and gracious - and so He shines His light for all to see - even to those who don’t know Him yet.
For there is coming a Day to end all days, the day of His Glorious Appearing, when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess what the Magi learned on that first Epiphany - that this Jesus is the Lord and the Christ of all. You’re in on the mystery ahead of time. Consider yourself lucky -
scratch that - consider yourself blessed by God.
For you see - you too have been guided to the place where you might bow down and worship the Savior. Not by a star in the sky, but instead by the example of a parent, a word from grandma or grandpa, or an encouragement from a friend. And you didn’t have to go on a thousand mile journey through the desert. You don’t have to ride a camel, follow a star, or cross the desert. You don't need to try and find Jesus in a potato chip, pancake, or a cheeto. Because Jesus comes to you. He comes to you personally through His Word, in the Supper, and through His people. He comes to you and calls you by name - You are His.
And even though we celebrate Epiphany today - each and every Sunday is another “epiphany” where Jesus makes Himself known to us, revealing the Mystery of His Incarnation, and our inclusion in His death and resurrection, bringing His light and life to all who believe.