The Brightness of Your Rising

Passage: Exodus 33:12-23
Date: January 04, 2009
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
Guest Preacher:

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Sermon

The Brightness of Your Rising”
The Rev. Laurie Vischer
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
January 4, 2009


One of my favorite print comics is Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is an impish little boy with a stuffed tiger named Hobbes. The tiger is alive to the boy and the two get into trouble. On Sunday, December 31, 1995, the last daily comic strip ran. It showed Calvin and Hobbes with their sled in a large snowy area near their home.

Calvin: Wow it really snowed last night! Isn't it wonderful?

Hobbes: Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand-new!

Calvin: A new year... A fresh clean start!

Hobbes: It's like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!

Calvin: A day full of possibilities! (he and Hobbes get on their sled)
It's a magical world Hobbes ol' buddy...Let's go exploring!
Possibilities! Fresh slate! Unmarked snow. Some of us may have that sense of possibility and hope on this cusp of a new year. But many of us are apprehensive, even afraid. Personal losses, war, anxieties and money concerns, concerns about health-- (the prayers of concern that we pray today)–for some, the shadows cast by those concerns keep us from embracing the hope and possibility of real change. Maybe we’re afraid to hope? What frightens us?

This morning’s passage from Isaiah should be read in context. For the first hearers of that prophet, whom scholars know as Third Isaiah, the Israelites who had been in exile and who had longed for home–finally, had been freed and had returned. But once home, the re-building was very difficult. The gathering of Jews still represented only a fraction of the scattered people. They lacked the resources and materials to rebuild the temple. They were shaken by uncertainty and adversity, and were tempted to give up hope that quality life was even possible anymore! (Does any of this sound familiar?)
It is in this situation that the prophet gave a glimmer of the fullness of life they would yet enjoy when the people turned to God and God was recognized in their midst.
The description we read in Isaiah this morning, is full of earthy color and fragrance– camels bearing frankincense and gold. It’s the vision of a people who have been deprived and humiliated. It’s like an elaborate feast, imagined by castaways on a desert island. But even in the midst of this earthy materialism, the spiritual meaning is not dimmed: the gifts are in praise of God. The transformation is about restoring human community, but it’s also about more. What’s being built is the God’s kingdom, a shining city, a realm of love and right relationship.
Our reading from Matthew gave us Magi bearing gifts for a baby, following the star.
Have you ever thought about how remarkable it was that the Magi would undertake such a long journey just to see a baby? And even more remarkable was how Herod was so threatened by an infant! This child was no immediate threat. The baby, like all babies, was in fact, helpless. And yet his birth prompted actions of the most powerful. The concern of the King Herod and the Magi had to do with the future, a future in which the baby has grown into a person of power.

Can you imagine decision makers today with that kind of forward-thinking? It seems that in our time, we not only can’t remember what happened a few years ago, we neglect to ponder what will happen in a decade, let alone a generation to come. Perhaps we forget and we don’t look ahead because we are afraid to see what may happen--and what change may be required of us. As we stand on the cusp of this new year, let’s look ahead, into what’s difficult.

German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
“And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. . . Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

This epiphany reminds us that our hope is wrapped up in a mystery: Immanuel, Our God loves us and is with us, working through us here and now. . .But the transformation that will happen will dawn in God’s time, not necessarily our time. We may not live see the results, but we can trust two things: God is with us. And --our faithfulness, our turning to God amid the struggles of life-- is a central part of the kingdom’s coming.

Some years we can embrace more easily than others. I must confess that this Christmas and New Year’s I was inclined to do less than usual. Even preparing for this sermon, I felt a great struggle and reluctance to look forward at the coming year. I’m not sure why, but it may have something to do with my own fear. I worry about our kids growing and what kind of world they are inheriting. I’m concerned about money for college and have resolved to do more saving this year. But I think my deeper fear is fear of the unknown. I can see middle school rapidly approaching, and I wonder if I’m ready for that. I can remember my days of working as a youth minister for middle school and senior high kids. There were many times when I felt helpless with middle school boys. I didn’t know what to say or do. Though I wanted very much to be connected, at times we seemed in separate worlds. Will it be that way with my own boys?
Perhaps everything that frightens us, is in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
I’d like you to picture the cartoon in the Oregonian this week. Imagine a chalkboard with the word “ANGER” on it. Erase the R at the end. Add CH at the beginning, to transform the word from ANGER to CHANGE.
I’ve wondered if reluctance to face the new year is the fear of all the change that needs to happen to make this world a better place. The changes are going to require all of us to do what we can to bring about a sustainable environment; a safe and loving place for children; a place for healing of body, mind and soul. Facing all that needs transformation can be overwhelming, certainly, if we don’t trust that God is in this, with us.

Some years ago, when surgeons first learned how to perform safe cataract operations, Western surgeons operated on people of all ages, who had been blind from birth. Marius Von Senden wrote about this in his book Space and Sight. Some of the newly sighted people were awe-struck and found great beauty and wonder. Shown a bunch of grapes, a boy described it: “It is dark blue and shiny. . . It isn’t smooth, it has bumps and hollows.” A little girl visited a garden, “She was greatly astonished and could scarcely answer. She stood speechless in front of the tree, which she only named after taking hold of it, and then, as “the tree with lights in it.”
For most of newly-sighted, patients, they had no idea of space at all. A patient had no idea of depth, confusing it with roundness. Before the operation, a doctor would give the blind patient a cube and a sphere; the patient would tongue it or feel it with his hands and name it correctly. After the operation the doctor would show the same object to the patient without letting him touch them; now he had no clue at all to what he was seeing. One patient called lemonade “square” because it pricked on his tongue as a square shape pricked on the touch of his hands.
One patient saw, but it didn’t mean anything but a lot of different kinds of brightness.
For many patients, it was oppressive to realize the tremendous size of the world. A certain number of them refused to use their new vision, continuing to go over objects with their tongues, and lapsing into apathy and despair. One father wrote about his twenty year old daughter: “She carefully shuts her eyes whenever she wishes to go about the house, especially when she comes to a staircase. She is never happier or more at ease, when, by closing her eyelids, she relapses into her former state of blindness.”
Perhaps everything that frightens us, is in its deepest essence, something helpless that
wants our love. From 19th century English poet, Francis Thompson, we read these words, about the connectedness of our lives to all others:
“. . .When to the new eyes of thee
All things by [God’s] power,
Near or far,
Hiddenly To each other linkèd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star. . .”

What would the world be like? What if we took the long view and remembered our connectedness? What if our decisions as a congregation, as individuals were made primarily out of concern for the impact on future children?
What if we lived as though we believe that we are all here for the glory of God. . .and that we are successful only as the least of those among us are thriving?
What if we were able to trust that in the darkness of the unknown, God is holding our hand and leading us toward transformation and light? What would change in us? How would we live then?
“The Brightness of Your Rising”
The Rev. Laurie Vischer
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
January 4, 2009


One of my favorite print comics is Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is an impish little boy with a stuffed tiger named Hobbes. The tiger is alive to the boy and the two get into trouble. On Sunday, December 31, 1995, the last daily comic strip ran. It showed Calvin and Hobbes with their sled in a large snowy area near their home.

Calvin: Wow it really snowed last night! Isn't it wonderful?

Hobbes: Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand-new!

Calvin: A new year... A fresh clean start!

Hobbes: It's like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!

Calvin: A day full of possibilities! (he and Hobbes get on their sled)
It's a magical world Hobbes ol' buddy...Let's go exploring!
Possibilities! Fresh slate! Unmarked snow. Some of us may have that sense of possibility and hope on this cusp of a new year. But many of us are apprehensive, even afraid. Personal losses, war, anxieties and money concerns, concerns about health-- (the prayers of concern that we pray today)–for some, the shadows cast by those concerns keep us from embracing the hope and possibility of real change. Maybe we’re afraid to hope? What frightens us?

This morning’s passage from Isaiah should be read in context. For the first hearers of that prophet, whom scholars know as Third Isaiah, the Israelites who had been in exile and who had longed for home–finally, had been freed and had returned. But once home, the re-building was very difficult. The gathering of Jews still represented only a fraction of the scattered people. They lacked the resources and materials to rebuild the temple. They were shaken by uncertainty and adversity, and were tempted to give up hope that quality life was even possible anymore! (Does any of this sound familiar?)
It is in this situation that the prophet gave a glimmer of the fullness of life they would yet enjoy when the people turned to God and God was recognized in their midst.
The description we read in Isaiah this morning, is full of earthy color and fragrance– camels bearing frankincense and gold. It’s the vision of a people who have been deprived and humiliated. It’s like an elaborate feast, imagined by castaways on a desert island. But even in the midst of this earthy materialism, the spiritual meaning is not dimmed: the gifts are in praise of God. The transformation is about restoring human community, but it’s also about more. What’s being built is the God’s kingdom, a shining city, a realm of love and right relationship.
Our reading from Matthew gave us Magi bearing gifts for a baby, following the star.
Have you ever thought about how remarkable it was that the Magi would undertake such a long journey just to see a baby? And even more remarkable was how Herod was so threatened by an infant! This child was no immediate threat. The baby, like all babies, was in fact, helpless. And yet his birth prompted actions of the most powerful. The concern of the King Herod and the Magi had to do with the future, a future in which the baby has grown into a person of power.

Can you imagine decision makers today with that kind of forward-thinking? It seems that in our time, we not only can’t remember what happened a few years ago, we neglect to ponder what will happen in a decade, let alone a generation to come. Perhaps we forget and we don’t look ahead because we are afraid to see what may happen--and what change may be required of us. As we stand on the cusp of this new year, let’s look ahead, into what’s difficult.

German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
“And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. . . Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

This epiphany reminds us that our hope is wrapped up in a mystery: Immanuel, Our God loves us and is with us, working through us here and now. . .But the transformation that will happen will dawn in God’s time, not necessarily our time. We may not live see the results, but we can trust two things: God is with us. And --our faithfulness, our turning to God amid the struggles of life-- is a central part of the kingdom’s coming.

Some years we can embrace more easily than others. I must confess that this Christmas and New Year’s I was inclined to do less than usual. Even preparing for this sermon, I felt a great struggle and reluctance to look forward at the coming year. I’m not sure why, but it may have something to do with my own fear. I worry about our kids growing and what kind of world they are inheriting. I’m concerned about money for college and have resolved to do more saving this year. But I think my deeper fear is fear of the unknown. I can see middle school rapidly approaching, and I wonder if I’m ready for that. I can remember my days of working as a youth minister for middle school and senior high kids. There were many times when I felt helpless with middle school boys. I didn’t know what to say or do. Though I wanted very much to be connected, at times we seemed in separate worlds. Will it be that way with my own boys?
Perhaps everything that frightens us, is in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
I’d like you to picture the cartoon in the Oregonian this week. Imagine a chalkboard with the word “ANGER” on it. Erase the R at the end. Add CH at the beginning, to transform the word from ANGER to CHANGE.
I’ve wondered if reluctance to face the new year is the fear of all the change that needs to happen to make this world a better place. The changes are going to require all of us to do what we can to bring about a sustainable environment; a safe and loving place for children; a place for healing of body, mind and soul. Facing all that needs transformation can be overwhelming, certainly, if we don’t trust that God is in this, with us.

Some years ago, when surgeons first learned how to perform safe cataract operations, Western surgeons operated on people of all ages, who had been blind from birth. Marius Von Senden wrote about this in his book Space and Sight. Some of the newly sighted people were awe-struck and found great beauty and wonder. Shown a bunch of grapes, a boy described it: “It is dark blue and shiny. . . It isn’t smooth, it has bumps and hollows.” A little girl visited a garden, “She was greatly astonished and could scarce y answer. She stood speechless in front of the tree, which she only named after taking hold of it, and then, as “the tree with lights in it.”
For most of newly-sighted, patients, they had no idea of space at all. A patient had no idea of depth, confusing it with roundness. Before the operation, a doctor would give the blind patient a cube and a sphere; the patient would tongue it or feel it with his hands and name it correctly. After the operation the doctor would show the same object to the patient without letting him touch them; now he had no clue at all to what he was seeing. One patient called lemonade “square” because it pricked on his tongue as a square shape pricked on the touch of his hands.
One patient saw, but it didn’t mean anything but a lot of different kinds of brightness.
For many patients, it was oppressive to realize the tremendous size of the world. A certain number of them refused to use their new vision, continuing to go over objects with their tongues, and lapsing into apathy and despair. One father wrote about his twenty year old daughter: “She carefully shuts her eyes whenever she wishes to go about the house, especially when she comes to a staircase. She is never happier or more at ease, when, by closing her eyelids, she relapses into her former state of blindness.”
Perhaps everything that frightens us, is in its deepest essence, something helpless that
wants our love. From 19th century English poet, Francis Thompson, we read these words, about the connectedness of our lives to all others:
“. . .When to the new eyes of thee
All things by [God’s] power,
Near or far,
Hiddenly To each other linkèd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star. . .”

What would the world be like? What if we took the long view and remembered our connectedness? What if our decisions as a congregation, as individuals were made primarily out of concern for the impact on future children?
What if we lived as though we believe that we are all here for the glory of God. . .and that we are successful only as the least of those among us are thriving?
What if we were able to trust that in the darkness of the unknown, God is holding our hand and leading us toward transformation and light? What would change in us? How would we live then?