Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Third Sunday after the Epiphany + January 22, 2017
Text: Isaiah 9:1-4
One of the first works of God was to separate the light from the darkness, and making a distinction called Day and Night. The difference between light and dark is a matter of contrast. For our life, we need contrast to tell the difference between one thing and the other.
The difference between light and darkness has a spiritual significance for us, too. The Lord chooses to associate Himself with the light:
“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5)
“The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.” (Psalm 118:27)
That means where there is God, there is also light. Conversely, God shuns the darkness, because darkness means the absence or rejection of God:
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:2)
“Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” (Exodus 10:21)
The Lord describes rejection at the last day as, “[being] thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)
So it’s for more than poetic eloquence that the Prophet Isaiah writes,
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
For God, light and darkness are a matter of being in His presence or cut off from Him. They signify grace and sin. Those walking in darkness are blinded and cast out by sin from the presence of God, wandering and lost. Their company is the demonic and their destination is the grave. Even more tragic is that this darkness is so deep, “a darkness to be felt” in the inner being of man, that they don’t even recognize it. Even in the created light of high noon, a darkness dwells within our hearts that nothing on earth can illuminate.
But to these darkened sons of Adam, the Light of God has dawned! To the shepherds who stood out in the cold night, an angel shining with God’s glorious light appeared and declared, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” To crowds of people who know only that something is dreadfully wrong with creation, the voice of the preacher says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”
Behold, with eyes opened by God, and see the light of God’s salvation: Jesus Christ! The Light of God has shone upon us, and we are glad!
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Rejoice, because God has brought us back to Himself! “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” We have been moved out of darkness and sin to light in the Lord, so that now God calls us children of light, imploring us to walk in the light. We must work the works of God, for night is coming when no one can work. Nevertheless, as long as He is in the world, Jesus is the Light of the world.
Ah! But we still need contrast. As our life in the light of the Lord continues, we lose sight of the contrast with the darkness. We forget what a tremendous contrast there is between darkness and light, between sin and grace. Perhaps you’ve never sounded the depths of darkness and you’ve always grown up around the light. You just can’t understand how people can live without God, although they seem content to walk in the darkness.
Maybe the darkness is attractive because it doesn’t look that bad. Remember Eve who judged by her reason that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. But once she stepped into darkness, she fell headlong out of light and grace. St. James warns us (4:4), “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” But we make excuses for imitating the world’s ways—it’s not that bad for young men and women to engage in debauchery at parties, okay for old men and women to sit around and gossip about others (after all, it’s true, isn’t it?), or to badmouth our elected officials because it’s our First Amendment right.
Yet even with that contrast from the world firmly in place, darkness is still in our hearts. Now that we are light in the Lord, we look for contrast other places. Sure of our ability to judge good from evil, we start to find contrast within the sons of light. That’s what Paul was seeing in the Epistle reading:
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
We take it upon ourselves to draw lines among Christians—west versus east, orthodox versus liberal, young versus old, contemporary versus liturgical. But it is God who first separated the light from the darkness, and He alone has the right establish contrast and to judge good from evil.
But God graciously brings us out of even the darkness of our hearts. The same one who divided light from darkness, heaven from hell, brings us back our own transfer out of darkness. He reminds us where the lines really are drawn—“the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It’s with His Word that God works not only to bring us out of darkness and death, but He continues to keep us united in the one Name which has been put on us in Baptism. The water and the Word brought into the light, and in this Christian Church, you have everything good which God promises—the forgiveness of yours sins, the love and patience which are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of everlasting life.
Rejoice in your God and Savior who has taken you from the darkness, to live forever in the glorious light of His Kingdom! Amen.
 Genesis 1:4
 Luke 2:11
 Matthew 3:2
 Colossians 1:13
 Ephesians 5:8
 John 9:4-5
 Genesis 3:6
 1 Corinthians 1:10-12
 1 Corinthians 1:18