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Epiphany Year B 2020

1. Back when I was a young boy,

a. My family used to vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

b. That long strip of sandy islands was not as built up back then as it is now.

c. My memories of those vacations are dim; I have not been there in years.

2. All I remember is vast expanses of empty beach . . . and a light house.

a. It was called the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

1. and it was a tall black and white - striped tower,

2. with a searchlight which cast its beam far out over the nighttime sea.

3. My mother explained that ships out at sea

a. used the light from the light house to guide them.

b. The light warned them where dangerous waters lay

c. And showed them the way to safety.

4. Needless to say, after that I was fascinated by that lighthouse.

a. I even bought one of those cheap souvenir pictures of it,

1. which for a time hung in my room.

b. I liked the idea that there could be some place

1. people could look to for guidance and safety

2. out, lost and alone on the sea.

5. And I am sure I am not alone.

a. For while there are probably few of us who have ever visited the Outer Banks

1. and fewer still that have ever seen that lighthouse,

b. All of us have known the need for one. Especially these days.

1. For as teenagers we are overwhelmed by the demands of teachers and parents. . .

1. even though they themselves are often far less than perfect.

2. As mothers and fathers, we are overwhelmed by the demands of children and grandchildren,

1. even though they themselves are often far less than caring.

3. As husbands and wives, we are overwhelmed by spouses, demanding our affection.

1. Even though their demands are often far less than affectionate.

4. Such demands can be trying even in normal times. But these are not normal times.

5. The pandemic has thrown us together in our apartments and homes, and upended the balance of work and family, companionship and solitude, study and play that made our lives manageable.

c. Over this past year I have spoken to many people who feel depressed and anxious,

6. And that is not surprising, for these are times when we feel like a ship out at sea, lost and alone.

a. These are times when we are sure what we need is a lighthouse.

1. A place to look to for light, for guidance and safety out in the midst of that sea.

7. Often, however, that light is in short supply.

8. It certainly was for the people of Judah in today’s first reading

9. All throughout their long exile in Babylon,

a. If they had a lighthouse it was not a building but a person,

1. Whose words we heard again and again during the season of Advent from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

2. He promised the people that they would not be in exile forever.

3. That God would send someone who would set them free.

4. They would return to Israel and be a great nation once again.

10. If this prophet was their light house, then his words were their light,

a. leading them safely through the years of their exile,

b. illuminating King Cyrus of Persia as the one God sent to set them free,

c. and guiding them back to the promised land.

11. However, the people of Judah were confused

a. They had listened to the prophet’s words and thus

1. they expected to be bathed in the light of a great kingdom awaiting them in Israel.

b. However, when they arrived what they found was the darkness of ruined cities in a devastated land.

12. We can almost hear them demanding,

13. “Where is the light, show us the light, we need the light!”

a. We can hear them because we here the answer of the prophet

b. who led them from Babylon to Judah in the words of today’s first reading.

1. To a city in ruins he shouts, “Rise up Jerusalem!”

2. To a people in darkness he proclaims, “The Lord shines on you!”

3. To the exiles who have returned he promises that they will see the light, and so will everyone else; why?

c. Because no matter whether they are poor or rich, no matter whether they have good kings or bad,

d. Whenever they follow the commandments God gave them to guide them,

e. Whenever they look to God for their safety,

1. They will see the light and all nations will walk by it. . .

2. because they will have become a lighthouse,

3. not one made of stone and mortar,

4. but of men and women

5. whose faith and life become a light for one another and for all the world.

14. Several years ago, during one of my visits to North Carolina

15. I read that the light house at Cape Hatteras is no longer where it once was.

a. For the dunes had moved, and it was in danger of falling into the sea.

b. Thus, the light house had to be shifted inland, to protect it and to assure it could continue to shine its light out into sea.

16. Sometimes lighthouses have to shift in order to keep shining.

a. Certainly the gospel writer Matthew thought so;

1. For in the gospel that bears his name we see King Herod, the chief priests and the scribes of Israel

1. frantically searching the Scriptures

2. We see three magi, wise men, teachers or astrologers,

1. patiently following the light of a star

b. Everyone looking for the one who would be the new king of the people of Israel.

17. But to their surprise

a. he was not born in Herod’s palace,

1. or in the kingly city of Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem.

18. And to our surprise

a. it would not be the Jewish King Herod who would do him homage, but the gentile magi;

1. Because this child Jesus was the fulfilment of the promise made in the book of the prophet Isaiah.

b. Jesus was now God’s light.

1. and whenever people followed him,

2. looked to him for guidance

3. and trusted in him for safety,

4. that people, whether they were members of the people of Israel or Gentile magi, would be God’s people.

1. They would be a light house whose faith and life would be like a light

a. shining for others and enlightening the world.

19. For two thousand years that lighthouse has been the church.

a. A lighthouse made up, not of bricks and mortar,

a. But of men and women, young and old; mothers and father have been members of it; husbands and wives, presidents and bishops as well.

1. For generations and for better or worse we have looked to that Church, and more specifically its leaders to be our light, guiding us to safety.

20. And yet these days many of us feel lost and alone, cast adrift like a ship on a dark sea.

a. It has become increasingly difficult to see the light

0. Due to the pressures and needs of parents and friends,

1. the incompetence of government in dealing with the pandemic,

2. And in the darkness of a Church whose leaders are discredited by scandal.

21. And that is because we have forgotten the words of the prophet, and the example offered us by Matthew.

a. Because even if we cannot see the light out there . . .

1. Does that mean we cannot see it here?

1. Of course not.

22. For if one thing has proven true about this year which has just ended,

a. it is that while many of lighthouses we once looked to,

1. unable to shift to keep shining have tumbled into the sea,

b. the light has NOT gone out.

1. In fact, we see it everywhere:

c. In Hospitals with their doctors and healthcare workers

d. In Schools with their teachers and principals

e. In Religious communities and parishes

f. Who have comforted the despairing,

g. Cared for the sick and dying

h. Taught and supported the young and old.

23. The light has indeed shifted;

24. and now there are not just a few light houses

25. there are millions of them

a. And when we live our lives here together as a parish,

1. making sure the poor are fed through our charity,

2. the young are educated through our care,

3. and Jesus is followed thorough our lives of worship and service,

2. When we make this parish a place where all who seek the light are welcomed

1. Then we become the people Isaiah proclaimed, and Matthew predicted.

2. We become a light house;

3. Offering guidance, comfort, support, education, faith and life to all who seek that light, and find their way through those doors.

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