The Epiphany of Our Lord (Isaiah 60:1-6)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

The Epiphany of Our Lord + January 6, 2018

Text: Isaiah 60:1-6

Today begins the Epiphany season of the Church year.  This tradition of celebrating Epiphany comes to us from the Greek Church, where Epiphany means “to give light and cause to appear”[1]  Originally, this holy day commemorated several instances where God caused His glory to be revealed—the birth of our Lord, His Baptism in the Jordan, the Wedding at Cana, and the visit of the Magi—so it was duly named “Theophany” or God causing Himself to appear to men.  Now, we have each of those as separate holy feast days—Christmas, the Baptism of Our Lord, the visit of the Magi, and the sign at Cana in the season of Epiphany.

But why does God talk about light so much?  Why did we hear on Christmas, “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.” (Isaiah 9:2)  It’s because of what St. John describes at the beginning of his Gospel: The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)

But this darkness is so deep, the agnosticism so great, that we are scarcely aware of how bad it is.  John Lennon sings, “Imagine there’s no heaven, no countries, no religion, and no possessions.”  But Mr. Lennon, our race’s problem runs deeper than squabbles over land claims, government conspiracies, religious zealotry, and the psychology of criminals.  True those are all things which plague our existence on earth, but the what’s behind all of it is that human beings have lost sight of their Creator.

“For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples”

Sin has cast darkness over the human race, and over each person’s heart.  Our own reason and strength are hamstrung and unable to know and worship God as we ought to.  The word translated “thick darkness” can also be translated “a fog” which we in the Willamette Valley should be able to relate to.  Imagine being lost in the middle of a field on one of our pea-soup nights and trying to find your way in the right direction.  That’s what sin has done to our ability to find and fully know God.

Not to mention, in that darkness which covers the earth, we are darkened in how we regard one another as fellow creatures of God.  Every violation of God’s good creation springs from the darkness between us and God.  We insert our own ideas about God, and thus invent idols or worship demons.  We spurn the good God does through parents and other authorities and fight against them.  We alienate from our fellow men and devalue their life and wellbeing.  We turn marriage into a plaything for our own pleasure, holding to our spouse when it’s convenient and building walls or casting them off entirely when things get hard.  Our lips become weapons against the good name of others and we give our image a boost by stepping on their back.  All the evil which is committed to us and which we ourselves are guilt of is the result of this darkness.

John Lennon wistfully repeats the chorus, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”  But it doesn’t matter how many people you get together, the human race cannot and will not be saved by our own actions.

But heaven has seen our wretched state, and God has heard our anguished cries:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

                For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

                  but the Lord will arise upon you,

and his glory will be seen upon you.

                And nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your rising.

God has shone His light into our darkened world to work our salvation.  Epiphany is God making His salvation to appear in the midst of darkness.  The incredible truth of that is that He did not wait for us to find our way to Him.

Today, we reflect on how God revealed Himself to people who were not seeking Him, but yet what they found was the true God.  Magi were astrologers, adept at seeking answers from heaven based on what the stars are doing.  Kings would put their faith in these “wise men” just as some people today order their days according to horoscopes and fortune cookies.  When a star like no other appeared, the Magi sought the king whose birth it announced.  Perhaps some of them had heard the prophecy of Balaam (another unlikely instrument of God), in Numbers 24:17: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”  But with or without knowledge of that prophecy, God used the star to lead these men to Jesus and they worshipped Him and brought Him gifts.

But more importantly, this means that the Gospel has the power to bring salvation to all who believe—even sometimes to those who humanly speaking would be on the wrong track, like the Wise Men, or someone who comes to know the true God after dabbling in many religions.

    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 carried on the hip.

                Then you shall see and be radiant;

your heart shall thrill and exult,

                  because the abundance of the sea shall be turned 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 bring good news, the praises of the Lord.

In our day, I think it’s easy to give far too much credit to the darkness, and far too little to the Light.  The darkness is great, and seems to be increasing.  Hypocrites give God and His Church a bad reputation, sex abuse scandals shake people’s faith, false religion is on the rise with people leaving “denominations” for a pop Christianity that fails to feed them with solid food.  That’s all not to mention the darkness that anyone can see in this world.

But Almighty God shines His light, despite the darkness. On Christmas Day we hear from John 1: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (v. 5)  God will not be overcome by darkness, because His intention is to save people, even though we are lost and scattered in our darkness.

The Light shines in the darkness, and this light has reached you.  Formerly you were wandering through the thick, foggy darkness of this world, but through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, you have seen the bright light of Your Creator and His Son, Your Savior.  As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come,” so God continues to answer that prayer.  The effect isn’t always apparent to us, but when we witness it, it’s a beautiful sight. 

What we need in the darkness of the world and our own hearts is God’s Light, which shines from outside us and shines within us.  God is faithful, and He will truly bring His sons and daughters from the ends of the earth—even through the fog of thick darkness—to share in His eternal Kingdom.  In that place, darkness will be no more, and all who have received His light will praise and exalt God’s Name in the presence of the holy angels and before the glorious throne of grace. The Apostle Paul confesses in 1 Timothy 6, “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.”  And yet, He has called us to approach and give Him our worship and praise now and into eternity.  “To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:15-16)

[1] 2 Timothy 1:10

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