Preached: January 6, 2013
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word of God through which Jesus shines into our darkness is Isaiah 60.
Arise! Shine! For your Light has come and the glory of the LORD has risen over you. Look! Darkness covers the earth; thick darkness over the peoples. But the LORD has risen over you and his glory appears over you. Gentiles will come to your light and kings will come to the brightness of your rising.
Lift up your eyes and look around. All of them together have come to you. They bring your sons from afar; they carry your daughters upon their hips. Then you will see and be radiant. Your heart will tremble and swell. For the sea's abundance will be brought to you. The wealth of the nations will come to you. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels from Midian and Ephah. All of them from Sheba will come. They will carry gold and incense, and they will proclaim the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:1-6).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
The fog rolled in thick while the sun set. Soon a darkness surrounded him that not even his flashlight could penetrate. No use trying to find his way out of the forest, stumbling around in the dark. He flicks off the light. Why waste the battery? He feels the damp coldness settle in as he huddles in a small cove. An owl screeches. A wolf howls. A branch snaps. He shudders. How long till the dawn comes?
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you” (Isaiah 60:1, 2 NIV84).
Yes, dear Christians, your Light has come. So shine out of the darkness. Yes, you, shine. Shine with the light of Jesus Christ, who alone is the one, true, genuine light. Shine, dear Christian, shine out of the darkness. That's the theme today. Why shine? First, because the Light has risen for you. Second, so that others are drawn to him.
What darkness we were born into! The darkness of unbelief, that blind ignorance rejecting God's truth as foolishness. The darkness of sin, our stubborn will opposed to God, fighting against him, hating the good and loving the bad. The darkness of death, that hopelessness robbing our existence of any real meaning, as we cringed in dread, shuddering at what terror death would bring. What darkness! What thick darkness!
Don't rely on your flashlight to escape this darkness. Our fallen minds whisper: “Just do what you can. Do what's within you. If there's a god out there, he might fill up what's missing. Just do your best and God will do the rest.” Our fallen hearts seek to redefine right and wrong, making excuses for our failures, often comparing ourselves to others. Our fallen souls try to bring God down to our level, recreating him in our image, imagining that in the end he'll accept us for who we are and not punish us in hell, at least not me.
But like a flashlight beam flickering off the fog, these are all mirages fooling and deceiving, leading us deeper and deeper into danger. And sooner or later the flashlight goes dead. All human wisdom fails. All human hopes disappoint. All human strength ends in the grave.
“Arise, shine for your light has come” (Isaiah 60:1 NIV84). Earlier Isaiah had written, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given … And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6 NIV84). Who is this Light? It's Jesus Christ. The Apostle John describes Jesus like this: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4, 5 NIV11).
Here, dear friends, is the glory of the LORD that rises upon us, the glory that shatters our darkness to rescue us, the only glory that saves. God the Son came into our darkness to bring us light and life. He, who was with the Father from all eternity, he, through whom all things were created -- he came to dwell among us as one of us. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV11).
Or picture that dark Judean night. As the shepherds kept watch over their flocks, the glory of the Lord shown round about them. They were terrified, for they were sinners, like you and me. How can we stand in the presence of the holy God? How can we endure the radiance of his glory? Even the holy seraphim covered their eyes and feet in his presence. So pure, so astounding, so marvelous and awesome he is!
But what did the angel say? “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11 NIV84). That's God's saving glory that shatters our darkness.
The Light has risen for you, dear friend. Like the rising sun, Jesus has shattered your darkness and rescued you. He is your Light. He's shattered the darkness of your unbelief. Through Baptism he kindled faith in your heart. Through his Word he enlightens your mind to know him better and better.
He's shattered the darkness of your sin, your hostility against God. For he became your sin to freely credit you with his righteousness. His death in your place reconciled you to God, bringing peace. How miraculously this light shines for you every time you eat his body and drink his blood, believing his promise: This is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.
So also the darkness of death is shattered, for Jesus rose from the dead. Your faith, focused on Jesus crucified and risen, knows with all certainty that he is the solid rock. Your faith, focused on Jesus crucified and risen, trusts with all sureness that he has rescued you and saved you and brought you eternal life. He has conquered death for you, so you can boldly live for him, obeying his commands, serving him without fear, shining out to others with his love and kindness. For no matter what this world throws at you, nothing, not even death itself can separate you from him or snatch you out of his hands. For unlike a flashlight, Jesus never goes out. He is the ever-living Light, the eternal light. What sure, certain, unfailing hope you have in Jesus!
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you” (Isaiah 60:1 NIV84). Yes, dear Christian, shine out of the darkness for your Light has risen. And keep on shining out so that others are drawn to him.
Notice how the text describes how others are drawn to the light. The light first shown from the Jews who believed in Jesus. The disciples, who were all Jews, shared the message of Jesus only with their fellow Jews to begin with. But Jesus had come for both Jew and Gentile. The visit of the wise men, or Magi, expresses this truth. They were non-Jews, like us, but they came to worship Jesus.
The Old Testament prophets also foretold that the light of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would shine out from the Jews who believed in him and draw others from all nations. Yes, even non-Jews would become children of God, sons and daughters of the true Israel, through faith in Jesus. Isaiah describe this: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm” (Isaiah 60:3, 4 NIV84).
So we see God's plan, his mystery, revealed. The light of Jesus first shown out from the believing Jews and then drew those from other nations, non-Jews like you and me, so that we were brought from afar and carried to the light as sons and daughters. And now we, in turn, shine out into the darkness so that still others are drawn to Jesus.
How do we do that? Let's focus on that question for the reminder of our time here.
Notice that the text pictures us Gentiles bringing our treasures: the wealth on the seas, the riches of the nations, camels (which carried wealth over land in long caravans), gold, and incense. These represent what human talent and time can achieve. These gifts of time, talents, and treasures make the believers heart throb and swell with joy. But why? Look at the last half dozen words of the text: “proclaiming the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6 NIV84)
That's the key, dear Christian friends. How do we shine out so that others are drawn to Jesus? By giving all of our time, all of our talents, and all of our treasures to the praise of our Lord. You see, this involves more than our offering to church or the time and talents we use to serve the congregation. God doesn't ask for 10% but 100%. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
That means whatever you do, dear Christian, do it to proclaim the praise of the Lord your God. Whether studying at school, playing a sport, hanging out with friends, working at your job, taking care of your family, doing household chords, participating in the community, enjoying a hobby or some recreation, do it so that the Lord is praised. Keep in your heart what the Apostle Paul wrote, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV84). Do it with thanks in your heart that God has given you these time, talents, and treasures. Do it ready to give the reason for the hope that you have in Jesus. For how can others know to praise God for what you are doing unless you proclaim, that is, share with them the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus and the hope of eternal life through faith in him?
Shine out of the darkness so that others are drawn to the Light. Jesus pictures it well when he says, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds” (Matthew 5:16 NIV84). But he didn't leave off there. He didn't want us to imagine we should shine out so that other can see that we're good Christians, decent people. But how does he continue? “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV84).
Shine out so that others praise your Father in heaven, praising him who sent his Son to shatter our darkness and rescue us, praising him who called out of the darkness through his Word and sacraments to be his children walking in the light, praising him who draws us into the everlasting light. “Arise, shine, for your light has come” (Isaiah 60:1 NIV84). Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.