Recent events in Paris stand out as a microcosm of the struggles human face: in the same month, horrific, unexpected, disruptive intercultural violence, and two weeks later an international conference characterized by careful planning, keen deliberation, and unprecedented cooperation among 196 nations, confronting together a shared threat to our existence that is far more serious even than terrorism. While the first excites more publicity, future generations will remember the second, the United Nations COP21 meeting to establish worldwide goals to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gases. The light shines over Paris, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
During Epiphany we celebrate the light shining persistently in darkness. In a world characterized daily by extreme evil and radical benevolence, the language of Epiphany is not simply poetic, but promissory. In what seems an everlasting struggle, the good will prevail. Violence, both social and ecological, threatens to cloak the world with chaos and fear. But hope, expressed in saving action, escapes falling victim to irrational incidents of hate.
Since Epiphany falls on a Wednesday, many congregations will miss the buoyant passages about light in the year’s darkest days, with their images of the glory of God rising upon the people (Isaiah 60:1-6); prayers for the just king to live as long as the sun endures (Psalm 72); stories of the star that guided the wise (Matthew 2).
Yet some congregations, like ours in Indiana, will be more aware of the light this winter -- specifically, the sunlight. Our Presbyterian church is one of more than two dozen congregations in our state of all faiths and denominations that have obtained solar panels with the help of energy grants through Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light (IPL). Other state chapters of IPL are making similar gains.
In an 85% coal-fired state with thousands of fossil-fueled congregations, it is tempting to see congregational solar panels as principally symbolic. They may reduce our own power bills by a couple thousand dollars, but they hardly amount to a noticeable reduction in carbon pollution, even among people of faith.
But seen from another angle, the move to solar panels appears prophetic. On the Sunday when our congregation walked outdoors to dedicate them with red and yellow streamers, songs, and prayers, two local news stations came to watch. And days later, when we held a celebration dinner and solar forum, members of several surrounding congregations attended to learn how they could do the same. Members of our congregation have already been seeking solar for their own homes and asking about the next phase of the church’s solar project.
Not all of us stand in the front lines either as peace keepers or diplomats. We aren’t all climate scientists or inventors. Few of us can claim personal expertise in the scientific, economic, and social complexities involved in shifting society toward sustainable practices. But each of us, through our small words and local actions, can choose to be agents of light.
Texts in the second Sunday after Christmas emphasize new and renewed life in creation:
· Jeremiah 31:7-14 anticipates restoration for Judah as agricultural bounty: grain, wine, oil, flocks, and herds, saying, “Their life will become like a watered garden.”
· Sirach 24:1-12 (complementary) describes Wisdom’s origin before all creation, and her influence over heavens, seas, and earth.
· Psalm 147:12-20 praises God’s command over natural forces and God’s provision of food for the world’s inhabitants.
· Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21 (complementary) describes Wisdom as a shelter for God’s people in the wilderness.
· Ephesians 1:3-14 describes God’s plan to unite all things, both heavenly and earthly, in Christ.
· John 1:(1-9), 10-18 describes Jesus as the light that shines in darkness, and John as a witness testifying to the light.
Passages for the Baptism of the Lord draw attention to two powerful forces of creation -- flood and fire -- gifts beyond human control, yet sacred for the church as the water of baptism and the Holy Spirit’s fire:
· Isaiah 43:1-7 pledges that God will transform flood and fire from destructive threats into cleansing agents of new life.
· Psalm 29 proclaims both the power of flood and fire and their subjection to God’s voice, which thunders over the waters.
· Acts 8:14-17 moves the boundaries of sacramental water and fire beyond the Jewish community into Samaria.
· Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 describes John’s water baptism and announcement that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
This week’s texts concern gracious gifts from God that reflect the world’s diversity and relationality:
· Isaiah 62-1-5 announces God’s reunion with Jerusalem, whose vindication shines like the dawn.
· Psalm 36:5-10 shouts that God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens, and that God saves humans and animals alike.
· 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 lists the diversity of human talents, reflecting the teeming diversity of creation.
· John 2:1-11 recounts the bountiful gift of water turned into celebratory wine.
Proclamation is highlighted in human words and the unfolding story of creation this week:
· Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 relates Ezra’s reading of the Torah before the Water Gate.
· Psalm 19, in which “the heavens are telling the glory of God,” parallels the wordless divine message proclaimed from creation itself to the sweetness of the written Torah.
· 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a uses the image of the body and its parts to remind readers that no member is incidental—a message as applicable to the web of creation as it is to human society. If one part suffers, all suffer.
· Luke 4:14-21 relates Jesus’ own interpretation of his ministry as one of healing for those most forgotten.
Courage is a central theme in this week’s passages:
· Jeremiah 1:4-10 recounts God’s call to the prophet: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
· Psalm 71:1-6 requests protection from injustice, since “upon you I have leaned from my birth.”
· 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 commends love as the motivating force behind words and deeds.
· Luke 4:21-30 recounts Jesus’ bold sermon in Nazareth. Reviewing times of drought and disease, he highlights God’s justice toward foreigners.