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Watching for the Light

A reflection on Matthew 2:1-12 by the Rev. Marnie Peterson

How do you experience God? How do you know who Jesus is? What resources do you trust to give you that information?

We have textbooks, lectures, scripture, maybe sermons… but what about you as a resource that you can trust to tell you about God? Who God is and how God participates in the world.

This Sunday as we celebrate Epiphany and read a pretty interesting tale about the magi:

  • Who trick King Herod so that he will not see his plan through to rid the country of Jesus at the beginning of his life.
  • Who follow the beckoning of a star and take in the Jesus-child and see.
  • Who see all that Jesus is, all that he holds within him, the overwhelming possibility.

Possibility that scares Herod so much that he wants to extinguish it.

There is so much possibility or promise that lay in that tiny human, in one of the least powerful places, enough promise to change everything.

And these three see the baby and they just know – they can sense it – their bodies, their hearts, their minds tune in and know that something is different about Jesus.

And so this piece of scripture tells us something I think, it gives us a clue about how we can take in information about God – not just through the reading of scripture or books but with our own bodies.

There is something within us that knows the divine when we are in its presence and will tune in to it. Turn towards it.

I was riding the bus home a few days ago listening to a podcast and this fellow Leng Lim a priest who also, I think works in the business world. He was telling his story and he said something like this. He said: nature is scripture. Lim continued:

“if it is in nature then it is also in me and my experience is also a valid source of knowing God.”

We talk about all of creation being made of the stuff of God. We tell it in our creation story.

My experience, your experience – your lived encounters with one another, with nature, within yourself are also a valid source of knowing God.

Of course other sources are also very helpful and can be important – we wouldn’t want only our own experience to inform our understanding of God. Only having one source of information about God can seriously limit your understanding of God and I would argue also limit what you allow God to do in your life.

But your experience is a valid and useful source of information about God, your body, your experience of love, your connection to others and to the world.

But that also that tells me is that I don’t have all of the information myself. None of us does. As well as my own experience, I also have to listen to yours, I have to pay attention to your experience too, to how you live your life to the places that you invest in, because that will help me to have a wider understanding of God and of you.

So I was thinking about this as we are coming out of the holidays where some of us spent time with family, which for some of us is complicated and even painful.

Because family can be complicated and painful – at least in my experience – and so how do we know God in and amongst all of that. How do we know the God of possibility in situations that can be hard, among families who may not be very good at loving us for who we are, who cannot see all of the beauty that resides within each of us.

I wish that I had a good answer for that. I feel like for many of us the relationship status with family is “it’s complicated”. And there is no easy way out of that.

And for those of you who risked being with family this season and are still recovering from it because of the many hopeful expectations that this season sets up for us, because of the parts of us that we could not reveal because it wasn’t safe, because of our families inability to see the beauty that resides in you.

I do want to remind you publicly that your experience of God is real and true. That God’s love for you has not shifted, even a little – you are still and will always be – beloved of God because of who you are and not despite anything.

Sometimes being able to see the Divine within another can help us to have more grace with others. If we can see where someone else is working to make the world a little bit better, even in their own corner – that can help us to find a way for us to make space for them. Which can be really beautiful.

And sometimes remembering that our own lived experience of God, where God is and what God feels like can help us to have grace with ourselves. To remember that we too are important members of God’s kingdom, that we too are worthy of love and grace.

I would like to suggest that it is exactly this possibility that scares the powerful, so much so that they want to snuff it out. The incredible fact that is offered through God, that each of us is worthy of love, that each of us holds within us an experience of and information about the Divine. That we participate in the world in really important and meaningful ways by sharing that love – that is scary to some. Because a world based on love and grace is a very different kind of world and its’ much harder to control.

So I would ask again: how do you know God? How do you experience Jesus Christ? AND where and with whom?

Because that will tell you something about you, about community and about where you might be called to be. I didn’t know as much about God as I do now, because of you – because of the ministry that we do together – just by being community and by you inviting me into your story.

Your stories have tangled with mine – interrupted my assumptions and changed me, where I find grace, how willing I am to offer it.

That’s what happens when we trust our experience of God. When we allow that information that we receive from our own experiences and from one another. We change each other.

Jesus coming into the world changed everything – at least as I understand it: about power and our understanding of it. About who we are invited to align ourselves with and what we should be working to change. About love and how and within whom we share it.

The world – our worlds – sometimes our families don’t think they are ready for this kind of love yet – but I don’t know if they will ever think that they are and so we have to keep on going. The world didn’t think it was ready for a baby who was born to show us what God is like – and God sent them anyways.

So I want just to say please trust your experience of God and of love. Know that you have within you, within your experience of friendship and body and love, important information about God and where God can be found.

And that changes everything.

This season of Epiphany is about acknowledging that Christ is here in the most unsuspecting of places and looking for it. We look for those glimmers of light and then we work to protect them so that they can burn brighter so that more can see – so that God can be made known through us.

We have been watching for the light and now we give room for it to burn bright in a world that so badly needs it.

I want to close with these words from ‘Enter with Joy” a communion liturgy for Epiphany.

May the peace of the Epiphany God –
the joyful peace of finding,
the enlightening peace of seeing,
the challenging peace of understanding,
the radical peace of following a different route –
energise and encourage you as you travel onwards.”
Amen.