Epiphany Sunday January 8, 2017
126:1-3, 106:1-4, 106:5-7, 126:4,5
Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be nursed at your side. Then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you. The multitude of camels shall cover your land, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.
Prayer: O God, by the leading of a star You once made known to all nations Your only-begotten Son; now lead us, who know You by faith, to know in heaven the fullness of Your divine goodness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus, Who is the Light of the World, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Have you ever come into an unfamiliar room that’s pitch black? You come through the door and you feel all around the wall looking for the light switch. When you find it, you turn on the light and it becomes easy to move around the room. If you’re not able to find the switch, you probably take little baby steps across the room, with your hands groping in front of you, hoping that you don’t trip and fall, or bang your shin on something.
However, if there’s even a little light in the room, maybe from a nightlight or a window, it becomes fairly easy to find the light switch. Or, the nightlight may provide enough light that you are able to move about the room without turning on the overhead light.
At this very moment there are millions, even billions, of people stumbling around in the darkness, trying to find the way to heaven. By nature man knows that there is a god. He knows this just from looking out the window at the Creation. Man knows that there is something after death, for his conscience tells him that he is accountable to Someone. God put this “natural knowledge of God” in man, as the apostle Paul says, “…that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…” (Acts 17:27). But this knowledge does not reveal who God is; it does not reveal the way of salvation. So man knows that there is a light switch, and this knowledge leads him to stumble around looking for the Light. And man would never find that Light, except that God reveals it to him. Like the shining star that guided the wise men to the cradle of the baby Jesus, God’s Word shines in the darkness of a sinful world, calling sinners to come to the Savior and to find in Him the way to heaven. So it is that the evangelist John (Jn 1:5) tells us that:
in the Person of Jesus Christ. For He is, John says, “the true Light, which gives light for every man…” (Jn 1:9).
Approximately four thousand years elapsed between the time of the first Promise given at the Fall into sin, and the birth of that Savior. He did not arrive late, nor did He arrive early. Rather, “When the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal 4:4f). Until that time, even the people of Israel walked in darkness, in that they did not know the exact date of the Savior’s birth. When Isaiah told of the Savior’s coming, He was speaking some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ. After his prophecies, Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple was knocked down, and the people were carried away into captivity. Even after their return, after they had rebuilt the temple, they had not been entirely free, for their return had been followed by conqueror after conqueror. But when the prophecy was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus Christ, the prophet cries out to Old Testament believers, “Arise! Shine! For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you!” He says, “Don’t sit there in mourning! Jump up! Rejoice! The Savior is here!”
We, too, once sat in darkness, that is, in the deep darkness of sin and spiritual death. But since the Light of God’s Word has shown upon us, we have become the ones of whom Scripture says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined” (Is 9:2). That light is God’s Word, which is like, “…a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet 1:19), for, “…it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). That light shines upon us by proclaiming to us the glory of God, namely, His glorious mercy in Christ Jesus. Through the Word, God’s glory drives away the darkness of sin and death, and turns on the Light so that now we see the way to heaven. When that Good News is proclaimed to us, the Savior is born in our hearts and God’s forgiveness shines upon us, taking away all of our sins and declaring us to be children of God.
Today is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany means, “to reveal.” It is often called the Christmas of the Gentiles. A Gentile is someone who is not a Jew. Which, of course, would include us. Christ did not come to the Jews only. He came to the Church, which includes believers in the time of both the Old and the New Testament, to all of those who look to Him for salvation. Yes, He was born in Bethlehem long ago, but whenever His Word is preached, He makes our heart His cradle, calling us His own. Through faith in Christ, we are the children of God, we are Israel, for Israel, properly speaking, is only believers, whether in the time of the Old or New Testament. Even now deep darkness covers the earth. But wherever God’s Word is proclaimed, there, the glory of the LORD shines, as it arises over His people, over His Church. And, our text tells us, as the LORD rises over us with His glory, “His glory will be seen upon you.” Christ says to believers, “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). That Gospel shines upon you, and:
To God’s people the prophet says in our text, “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” All along the coast of Lake Superior you will find lighthouses. They either warn ships away from the rocks or they show the ships the way to the harbor. Before the days of radar and sonar it occasionally happened that a lighthouse would malfunction and stop giving its light. When that happened, ships would run up on the rocks and be wrecked because they didn’t know where to go.
As those through whom God’s glory shines in the form of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, we are, as we have heard, lights in this dark world. People are wandering around in the darkness, not knowing where to go to find the truth concerning their salvation. Oftentimes they run up on the rocks of false religions and their souls are wrecked. So it is that Christ tells us, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men…” (Mt 5:14ff).
The Gentiles, that is, those who are not children of God, are in darkness. If we don’t let the light of God’s glory shine, how will they know where to go? They’ll just continue to stumble their way through the darkness with no hope of finding the way to heaven. So our Savior does not want us to sit here our little church with the shades drawn tight and the doors locked so that no one can see or hear what we teach.
Just think if the LORD had not sent the star to guide the wise men to Bethlehem. Even with that star to guide them, they still went wrong for a time. When they arrived in Judea they began to follow their reason and assumed that they were close enough that they could make it the rest of the way on their own, and the star stopped shining. They figured that, since they were looking for the King of the Jews, they would find Him in the capitol city of the Jews. It was not until they were directed back to the Word, which said that the Child would be born in Bethlehem, that they once again saw the star, which guided them to the very house where Jesus lived. Without the light from God, they would not have found their Savior. But, they did find Him, and Isaiah’s prophecy began to be fulfilled, which declares, “The multitude of camels shall cover your land, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.” Without the star they never would have found the Savior. In fact, they probably would never have left their home country of Persia.
Even so, Scripture says to us, “…you shine as lights in the world…in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…holding fast the word of life” (Phil 2:15f). Our Lord wants us to take His Word out the door with us, to live our faith, to share our Light with others by telling other people about the Savior from sin.
God promises that when other people can see our Light, “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be nursed at your side.” When that Word is proclaimed, many people ignore it and stumble on past. But that Light does attract people with the promise of God’s grace. It is through the preaching of that Word that we bear children for our Lord. These are spiritual children, born of water and the Word. They are sons and daughters, adopted children of God. Like us, they have received the adoption as sons through faith in Christ, (Gal 4:5). And together with us, they are “…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” (1 Pet 2:9).
As we let the glory of God shine through us into the darkness of the sinful world, we rejoice as we see unbelievers coming to the light. We rejoice as they bring not only the treasures of this world to help spread the Gospel, but especially the riches of their souls to the LORD. At times we may become depressed as we look around our little church and see so few people. But think of how many people have been gathered into God’s kingdom through the Word that is proclaimed in this little church. Over the years, hundreds have come to know their Savior through the light that shines forth from this church, and thousands upon thousands through the Word that shines through our little church body, the CLC. As more and more Christian churches turn away from the Light of God’s Word, and return to the darkness of the world, it falls upon us to let that Light shine even brighter, so that those who are looking for a church that still proclaims the Truth know where they might find that glorious Gospel.
God’s Word continues to shine in the darkness, shining upon us as we are assured of the forgiveness of our sins, and lighting us up with the desire to let that Light shine through us upon a dark world. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.