Lift Up Your Eyes and Look

Lift Up Your Eyes and Look

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth
   and thick darkness the peoples,
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light
   and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
   they all gather together; they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
   and your daughters shall be carried in their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
   your heart shall thrill and rejoice,[a]
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you;
   the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
   the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
   all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense
   and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:1-6 (NRSVUE)

Friends, many things guide us on our journey through life: our opinions, our friend groups, our political leanings, our family of origin, our church affiliation, our job, the neighborhood we live in, the stores we shop at, the news channels we watch and the list goes on and on and on. And through all that, we honestly think that we see and understand the world around us, and the funny part is not only do we think we understand it, but we think we’re in control of it. We think when we wake up in the morning, when we open our eyes, and look around us, that we actually see what is in front of us. But unfortunately, even what we see, and the way we see it, is tempered by our experiences, our opinions, and the way we live our lives.

Let’s look at the cross that hangs over my head as an example. When I look at it, the first thing that I think about is the story of when it was hung there. I remember the person who built it and the decision made to put lights behind it. I also remember how much it stuck out in the beginning because the space behind me was always empty when I was growing up. Now, a woodworker might look at it and wonder how it was built. Is it butt joined, mortise and tenoned, or dadoed? Or what kind of wood is it made of, and where did the wood come from? People of faith may look at it as a reminder of our faith story, but what story does it tell? Some may immediately think about Jesus dying on the cross on Good Friday. Others may be reminded that our cross in the protestant church is empty because we are a people of hope, resurrection, and new life, and we stand firm in the fact that the story didn’t end on Good Friday. Then others might simply think it’s a nice decoration.

Often, in times of prayer, I ask God to open our hearts and minds so that we might see and experience the world around us a little differently because I know that we are blind to many things. I am especially reminded of that around this time of year when we hear the epiphany story or the story of the wise men, magi, kings, or whatever you are comfortable calling them. Truth be told, they were astronomers, and they had a trained eye and a great understanding of the night sky. The Bethlehem star in the sky that they followed would have been visible to everyone. But though others saw it, they didn’t fully understand it. To many, it was just another star in the sky. But to the kings, magi, wise men, or astronomers, that simple star was a life-changing event.

There is a storybook that I recently read that speaks to the difference between looking and seeing and how we need to open our hearts and minds to begin to get a glimpse of the beauty around us. The book is too long to read right now, but I’m going to share just a few pages with you, and then I’ll bring it back out into Maxcy Hall. You can read the rest of it if you are interested. It is titled Noticing by Kobi Yamada.

(read the first few pages)

Friends, in our scripture reading today from the Book of Isaiah, we hear those well-known words, “Arise, shine for your light has come!” which is a call to believers to awaken from spiritual darkness and to let their light shine before others. To us, as Christians, that light comes from Jesus, the light of the world. But back in Isaiah’s day, this scripture spoke of the city of Jerusalem. You see, Isaiah foretold that Jerusalem, whose history had been riddled with war and the scars of empire, would exchange the sounds of violence and ruin for shouts of joy as it was rebuilt and invited in people from around the world. Remember, we heard in scripture: The wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Isaiah told of a vision of the city of Jerusalem’s future full of light, prosperity, and prestige. But we hear Isaiah’s words, especially the ones that said: The wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD. And we hear them as the story of the wise men coming to see the Christ child. And that’s okay!! Sometimes, we hear what we need to hear when we need to hear it. And sometimes, we see what we need to see when we need to see it. But there are other times when we need to open our hearts and minds to something bigger.

Today, along with your bulletin, you received a star word. If you didn’t get one on your way in, there are plenty, and you can get one on your way out. I always encourage people to put their star word somewhere that they will see it every day: on their bureau, their bathroom mirror, their refrigerator, or maybe their desk. Now, please know that your star word will be what you make of it. There is no magic to it or any mysterious connection. But if you allow it to, it just might help you to look at this next year through a little different lens, seeing and experiencing what you might not have seen or experienced before.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you step out into your busy week ahead, if you feel so moved, spend some time thinking about your star word. Listen for times and places where it pops up in conversation, with friends and family, on TV, or in scripture. And, like the star that led the wise men to Jesus, let it guide you in a new and different direction this year. Folks, whether you decide to let your star word be a shining light for you or not, try to take some time to open your heart and your mind. Search for the light that warms your heart and embrace it so that you might be a shining light for others.

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!

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