The prophet Isaiah’s words today, “Arise, shine, your light has come,” give us a double command, says scripture scholar, Diane Bergant. “Arise,” means, “Get up—do something!” But not only that; we are instructed to “Shine”—which seems to give the sense of spreading something around! Something wonderful has happened! Jesus, our light has been born! I think it is important that we look at just what that meant then and for us today. All the prophets throughout the Old or First Testament, spoke with assurance of the coming of the Messiah, the One who would save them, basically, from themselves, the One who would teach them how to live—simply put, how to love and care for one another.
Throughout the readings that the Church has given us today, there are three themes or ideas that run through them. The first idea comes from Psalm 72 and names Jerusalem as the source of the light for the nations. The psalmist is praying that God would bless the King or ruler, so that in turn, the ruler can bless the people. We see that, it is not so much about who the ruler is, but how that ruler will be with people. The movement of grace—of good, is always meant to move outward–never is it meant for just one family, one people—but inclusively–for all people.
In Old Testament times, authority for the Jewish people was always seen as given by God, or regulated by God. The psalmist prays wonderfully for the King, that the ruler, then and now would have a measure of God’s own justice and that this justice would give birth to harmony and peace because then this would lead to complete well-being for all.
This sense of having authority, or power, and understanding that it is a gift to be regulated, to be shared for the good of all reminds me of an experience that I had in the recent past, with someone that I was required to be in a ministry position with who was seemingly into her own power and it made it very difficult for me to work with her, because she seemed very possessive of that power and gift. I was apparently judged and convicted of some “crime” before even being put into the position and as a result, she simply chose to ignore me and treat me with disdain, even though our respective positions required that we work together for the good of all. This situation didn’t allow for much peace or harmony.
And in your lives, you realize that receiving just treatment in this life enables you to be at peace and live to your potential. This is true for each of us. Without just treatment, our lives can be pretty miserable as I realized in the example from my own life. We can also think of those who live in poverty—those who have no jobs or not the kind that give them a decent living, those with mental illness, those who suffer from addictions—their situations may involve injustice too, especially if no one steps up to help.
For the prophets in Old Testament times, as well as for the people; the real sign of the true character of leadership was seen if the most vulnerable in society were cared for—the poor. If these lowliest ones’ needs were met, then indeed, this was the sign that “justice had flowered in the land.” History, I believe, will record that part of the legacy of the Obama Administration will be his concern for these same poor—that our national debt would not be laid entirely on those most vulnerable and least able to bear it—that again, justice would rule. Each of us is challenged to meet the needs of those in our midst, to live compassionately, remembering, “that there but for the grace of God, go I.”
The second theme that runs through our readings is that Jesus, who is the Christ, the Anointed One, is the very revelation of God to all the nations. This is what the astrologers; the Three Kings understood when they saw the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. They further realized how right it was that this new ruler should come not in majesty, but in poverty—for indeed he would be a light to all the nations making it very clear that the least among us are loved and cared for by our just God and if we would follow him, we must do the same—we simply cannot ignore the vulnerable in our midst.
The third theme or idea running through the readings today is the new relationship that will be from now on between Christ, the Jews and the Gentiles. The Gentiles represent all the others who are not Jews, like all of us here! You see, the first Christians—Jews, thought that Jesus’ coming was just for them, but soon came to realize that Jesus meant much more than that. That is the whole point today of the coming of the Magi—the Three Kings—from foreign lands, to see the manifestation of God for all peoples.
In this light; I reflect on the interfaith group that Dick Dahl and I participate in in our community—recognizing that we are all one under our One, Good God! The Kings weren’t intended to merely see, but to share the Good News, that, “God is with us!” And this is where the “shining” comes in—the Magi took the wonderful news back to the “foreign” lands that they came from.
Friends, as we complete the Christmas Season today, let us remember and not often forget that our mission is to share Jesus and his preferential option for the poor with the world in which we live. We are also called to be compassionate people—ever grateful for all that we have been gifted with in life and to share our abundance with others in the ways that we can. This will mean, showing kindness, mercy, understanding and love. It will mean taking responsibility for seeing that the poor and down-trodden in our midst is cared for—we have the wonderful example of the Warming Center in Winona which opened its doors this weekend. Being of this mindset should find us enraged with tax cuts for the wealthiest in our country. It will call us to make sure that those we elect to lead us have this same vision—we will be challenged in this in the next four years! But if we can do these things and more, then our world will indeed become more just for all people—Jesus’ light will continue to shine through us!
So, my friends, if we look at the crib and see only a sweet baby—then we will have missed the point of Christmas! Jesus came as a sweet baby, yes!—the way we all come into the world, because God wanted us to know how much we are loved and the best way to do that was to be one of us and with us! But his mission and ours mean so much more than simply being born, living a while, and then dying. Each of us needs to live in such a way that when we come to the end of our lives, we can truly and humbly feel that Jesus’ love and justice are more a part of our world than before we came because that is what we have lived for and tried to bring about.
I began today with two commands—I repeat them now for us all—Arise! Shine!—our light, Jesus, has come and shows us the way! The joy that the Magi found in a poor stable in Bethlehem, was a truth they could carry back to their homelands—our God has come in poverty to show us what is most important—that we live and love and care for all. May we each be blessed this New Year to be people guided by the light of that same star that showed the Magi what life is really all about—love, pure and simple—this is the Christmas Story—this is what the Incarnation is really all about!