Back to Index

Listen to sermon by clicking here:

Drawn By the Light
January 7, 1979

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 2:1-12

fascination with the sky and with any unusual incident in the sky has been a part of human history. Certainly the ancient world was as fascinated and intrigued as we. We sang about the three wise men who not only were intrigued by that bright star but set out to follow. Indeed, they were drawn by the light. 

Today is the first Sunday of Epiphany. This is the season of the church year when we remember the trek of the wise men to the manger. Tradition tells us that they traveled about this time. Epiphany means “manifestation”. We celebrate and remember at this time, the manifestation, the showing, the revealing of Christ to the whole world. The light of the star is the theme of this season as we too are drawn by a light.

The wise men were probably called Magi, and were probably holy men of a tribe of priests from Persia. As in the Old Testament, there were tribes of priests called Levi. So the Magi were a tribe of priests probably in Persia. They were holy men. They were the philosophers of the day. They studied medicine, natural science and astronomy. Besides just studying the sky, they believed in astrology. They believed there were messages in the sky. They believed that the sky foretold the future. I suppose this is quite easy for us to understand and appreciate because the sky is orderly. The route of the stars and the planets is very dependable and very predictable, depicting a very orderly universe in which we live. 

So that anytime there was anything unusual in the sky, the ancient world believed that God Himself was invading into history, into the universe to announce something. This was also a time of expectation. There was a great deal of unrest and a sense of expectancy. Two Roman historians who lived at that time wrote that there was a general belief over that part of the world that out of Judea would come a ruler, or a group of rulers who would rule the world. This general  expectancy helps us understand why the government was so upset, and why King Herod was so shook by the idea that perhaps this prediction was coming true—that out of Judea would come one to rule the world. So the wise men left to follow, to seek the meaning of that star, intrigued by it, fascinated by it, drawn, magnetized by that star, by that light. 

The world today in which you and I live is also expecting something. There's an unrest. There is a  yearning, a deep, hungering and yearning for light. Time magazine reported this week on a new book called The Culture of Narcissism, American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations by Christopher Lasch. In this book, he evidently makes dire pronouncements and dire assessments of the United States today. “Storm warnings, portents, hints of catastrophe haunt our times. Defeat in Vietnam, economic stagnation and the impending exhaustion of natural resources have produced a mood of pessimism in higher circles, which spreads through the rest of society as people lose faith in their leaders. Social life becomes more and more warlike and barbaric. Protestant virtues no longer excite enthusiasm. But happy hookers stands in place of Horatio Alger as the prototype of personal success.” He contends that our society is desperately searching for meaning beyond itself. In other words, we're looking for light. We're looking for a Messiah. We’re looking for answers. We're longing for a star. 

And the tragedy of our time is that so many people will follow anything, or anyone who has any kind of confidence. They will follow anyone who has any sense of absolutism, anyone with answers. They will follow any kind of a movement that has charisma and magnetism. We see cults mushrooming, springing up on every hand, and some of them with tragic consequences like Jonestown—horror tales of people who have sold their souls for something less than the true light. We see bizarre manifestations of Christianity capturing and captivating people. We see the rise of all kinds of religions. We see authoritative denominations reaching out and and pulling in people, drawing them, magnetizing them. The tragedy today is that people are desperately looking for any kind of light and will follow anything. 

Traditional religion, traditional churches seem to be failing. We don't seem to be reaching, we don't seem to be communicating our message. Perhaps it is hard for the world to understand our message that the light has already shined and is already shining for those who can see, that the Messiah, that hope for which people are yearning and longing has already come, and is already here. The world doesn't seem to appreciate that Jesus Christ is the answer, that Jesus Christ has come, that Jesus is the truth and the way and the life, that Jesus has revealed God and Jesus has shined. For those who will accept Jesus, for those who believe, for those who will accept his love in their hearts, for those who take his word seriously, for those who will follow him will find meaning and significance. They find their salvation. That’s our message, but the world doesn't seem to hear or see. 

The question is: where is the light? Where is the light for the world to see? How does the world in its desperation see the light? We have gathered here together today in the assurance, in the name of that light. How does the world see it? If you believe that we have any kind of answers for the human existence, if you believe that we have any kind of truth that the world needs to hear, how can the world see the star shining today? Jesus told us, “You are the light.” You are the stars. In John 12: 36, Jesus said, “Believe in the light so that you will be the people of the light.” And in Matthew 5:14, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.” That's our commission. The church is the light. The church is the magnetic power that will draw all people to God—the church as a community and the church as each of you and me as individual people. 

We are the lights and as lights we are not called produce our own light. We’re not called to get so busy and so active that we spin our wheels, create electricity and generate light. Neither are we supposed to live in such a way that we cause friction so sparks will fly and people will see the light. We don't have to produce the light, we don't make the light, we don't generate the light, we reflect the light. As the moon does not shine in and of itself, but reflects the light of the sun, so you and I reflect the light of God. The light of Christ shines in and through us and is reflected so that the whole world may see. Wherever your world is, however large, however small your world is, there is where the light is to be shined—in your everyday existence, in your everyday life. For the co-workers, for the community, for your family, for your neighborhood, you are shining the light. There are occasions every day, countless occasions for you to be loving, for you to speak a word of love, for you to speak a word of encouragement, for you to improve a situation, to build it up rather than tear down, rather than put down but to build up, uplift and encourage. There are occasions every day. Or, you can say quietly, “This is not right. This is not the best we can do, the best we can be.” There are occasions on every hand where you can take a stand for good, where you can take a stand for truth, take a stand for righteousness. 

In two weeks, we're going to begin a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments. We’ll take ten weeks and each week look at a commandment to see what that word means today as we live in relationship with each other, and let our light shine. Every day there are countless occasions where the light of God can shine through you, where people can see, where people can be drawn not to you but to Christ. Jesus said, “Let your light shine so that people see your good works and glorify our father.” Not glorify you so you can be praised, not so people can think you are wonderful, not so you can be admired and recognized, but that Christ may be revealed, that Christ may be glorified and honored. That's our path. Let your good works so shine day after day that people may see Christ, that people may see that light and that star and be drawn to it. 

Traditional religion is failing because we're not taking that seriously. When the world looks at St. Paul's Church, what do they see? Do they see a light? I think when the world looks at our buildings, our buildings point to Christ with our steeple, our cross and our windows. Our facilities are here for ministering to the community. The community comes in and out and uses our buildings. As we serve, the world can look at our facilities and see Christ. But, how about when the world looks at us as people of God? What do they see? We're very busy here, we're very active, we hustle and bustle, but do they see Jesus when they look at us? Is the light of Christ shining brilliantly through us? How about you as an individual person? When your co-workers or your neighbors look at you, what do they see? Do they see a light flickering, dim? Are the batteries low? Every now and then do you have to get shaken up to get the batteries alive again in order to give out a few little squirts of light? Or, do they see a strong, brilliant, flashing light that points to the Messiah, that says to the world Jesus has come. 

Jesus is the truth and the way and the life. Jesus is the answer to people's needs. The light has come. The light has shined and the light is shining. It’s shining in you and pointing to what we worship and pointing to whom we serve.

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris