New - Week One: "New Light"
Today we are launching a brand new sermon series for the month of January--a series entitled, "New." This series will help us begin the new year with a new focus, a new outlook and a new way of seeing ourselves and others.
Transformation is in our DNA---it's how we were created. We were not created to be stagnant, staid and sedentary... we were created to grow. And the best kind of change leaves a mark.
Hence, our theme of tattoos--which I think is super appropriate. Because tattoos are painful, personal and if they are done wrong they leave the wrong kind of mark.
Some examples of really bad tattoos...
Which brings me to New Year's resolutions... Resolutions are often like a bad tattoo---it seems like a good idea at the time, you have all the best intentions, but because your execution wasn't good... it turns out poorly.
And so many of us get down on ourselves because we aren't able to keep our resolutions, and then we just stop making them.
But just like a tattoo, you have to plan, ensure that what you are doing is well-thought, well-formed and that you have the right people, resources, etc. around you to make it happen.
And then you have to actually keep the resolutions---the change needs to leave a mark... a good kind of mark.
It's also kind of interesting that we are on the verge of the Season of Epiphany in the church's liturgical calendar. Epiphany is centered around the story of the wise men, the magi from the East who came to visit and pay homage to Jesus.
We spent an entire month during the season of Advent talking about how the Light will shine, and now we are in the season where the light has come... but how ready are we to see what is illuminated?
How ready are we for the change the light brings?
Today we're going to be focused on how we can be made new by the transformation that comes when we finally begin to see the light. In fact that's the one thing I want us to hold on to and remember today...
We are made new when we finally see God's light.
Our conversation partner for this entire sermon series is going to come from the prophet Isaiah found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Interestingly, the book of Isaiah from the Hebrew Scriptures contains the work of at least three authors all writing in similar themes and styles over the course of several decades.
Today's passage is part of what is known as Third Isaiah, and was written the 6th century BCE as the Hebrew exiles are returning to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas after living in Babylon for 70 some odd years.
A little background on what is happening with the return...
Chapters 58-59 are all about the people's struggles, lostness, brokenness... And then suddenly the light comes, unconditionally... This is not a light just for a small group of people it's for everyone...
This passage we are about to read speaks to an eternal hope that is deeply enmeshed with Israel's greater purpose, which is to be a light to the nations.
1“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the hip.
5 Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land,
young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
bearing gold and incense
and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.
There is so much going on in this passage--the light of God illuminates everything abruptly and unconditionally and highlights the great purpose of Israel to be a shining city that draws all the nations.
And for these exiles who are returning, there are hard days ahead... there will be challenges, and trials as they try to rebuild what was lost. But God's light illuminates the beauty and holiness of their task.
This is about more than prosperity---more than about material gain. The words the prophet uses seem to be focused on that, but it's deeper. The prophet uses those words to draw upon the cultural imagination of the Hebrew people, but what he means is that it's been God's plan all along for Israel to be that city on a hill, to be the light of the nations.
The light of God draws all of the nations, all peoples to God---and for those of us who connect the dots here, we realize that God's plan A was always Jesus. There was no plan B.
The way to true transformation for us and for the world is God's plan A.
Here's what we learn from this passage:
The light of God illuminates all of the ways that true transformation is possible--it highlights all the ways you can be made new.
Here's something that you should know.
Once you see it... once you see the way the Light illuminates you and everything around you---you can't unsee it. It changes you forever.
T.S. Eliot wrote this in his poem "The Journey of the Magi" Speaking as one of the wise men, he reflects on the night when the magi arrived to see the Christ child...
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
But no longer at easer here...
Once you see it... you can't unsee it. It changes you. All of the ways you used to see the world seem drab and dreary when you've begun to see the world and yourself illuminated in the light of Christ.
So---how do we begin to see the light? How do we get to a place where we are being transformed, made new?
I think we need to ask some important questions---and how we answer them will determine how ready we are to not only see the light of God shining in the world, but to allow ourselves to be changed by what we see.
First, Where are you looking?
If you have been looking in all of the wrong places... work, affirmation, your comfort zone even church... Maybe it's time to change the places/spaces where you're seeking.
My most spiritually dry and myopic times... came when I was looking in the wrong places for God's light.
Second, How are you seeing?
What are the lenses you are using to see? Do they obscure thins more than help you see? Lenses like your tightly held social worldview, your ideas about being right, your desire to impose your will on the Scripture to fit all of that?
Or maybe it's just the way you choose to look out into the world and see only the shadows, focus on the negative, on what isn't...
Finally, What needs to change to make you new?
What do you need to release, what do you need to pickup? Do you need to finally commit? Do you need to say yes without any but?
When the light is right you can see if you are willing--you can see the broken and the beautiful... you can see what is good and true... you can see because the light of God is all around you, in you and through you.
And once you see... you can be changed. You won't want to go back to your old life. You will want to live into the new.