The church I serve just finished up an extensive vision process with Auxano last year. Part of the project involved the painstaking task of developing a new mission statement. After hours of meetings spanning two months we settled on “lighting the way to life by centering people on Christ.” There’s a lot of backstory as to why we settled on the imagery of light and centering which is related to our particular context. But one can’t deny the metaphor of light as a key element of any church’s mission.
Today is Epiphany, when Christians around the world celebrate the visitation of the Christ child by the Magi. That story is familiar, and I must confess that I never thought of the story in the framework of mission until this past week.
Here are three of the observations from the story that I related to our congregation this past week.
First, the purpose of the star (the light) was to reveal God (Matthew 2:1-2). Light is an important image in the Bible. It was the first thing God created in the creation story. It’s important to us, too! When you walk into a room, chances are the first thing you do is turn on a light. We also use it metaphorically, as in “let me shed some light on the subject.” Light is important because it reveals. It clarifies. In the Bible, light reveals God. It provides guidance so we can see God. Light guides our steps to Him.
God did not hide himself at advent. Angels announced his arrival to shepherds, and a star guided the magi from the east to see him as well. The light of the star was for everyone. Pagan kings and ceremonially unclean shepherds alike were welcome to Christ. Light is also important because it reveals something about us. It is to those of us walking in darkness that we discover God through his light.
Second, the star revealed God so the Wise Men could worship Him (Matthew 2:1-2, 9). Light reveals God so we too, may worship Jesus. Everyone is a worshiper. Christ alone is the valid object of our worship. Every lesser object of worship is an idol. In the Bible those idols are clearly identified. Strange gods such as Ba’al, Asherah and Molech existed in the Old Testament. The New Testament is filled with gods from the Greek pantheon. Our idols today are a bit more sophisticated and subtle. But their threat is equally real.
The light that reveals God is designed to draw all people to Christ in worship. John Piper said it best, “Missions exists because worship does not.” The responsibility of any Church is not to create more attendees, but more worshipers of Christ.
Third, when the Wise Men worshiped Jesus, he changed the direction of their lives (Matthew 2:12)
Genuine worship will be a transformative experience. Last week we celebrated the start of a New Year. Resolutions were made and goals were set with the idea that through will power we can accomplish the things we need to accomplish on our way to self-improvement. There are habits to break as well as habits to begin. But we don’t need reformation. We need transformation. Reformation works from the outside in, while transformation is an inside job. Transformation doesn’t come by setting our jaw and looking in the mirror. Transformation comes by looking into the face of Christ. It comes when we see God.
Tomorrow I’ll post the final observation from the darker, lesser discussed part of the story. Happy Epiphany!