Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
2 Though darkness covers the earth
and gloom the nations,
the Lord will shine upon you;
God’s glory will appear over you.
3 Nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning radiance.
4 Lift up your eyes and look all around:
they are all gathered; they have come to you.
Your sons will come from far away,
and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.
5 Then you will see and be radiant;
your heart will tremble and open wide,
because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;
the nations’ wealth will come to you.
6 Countless camels will cover your land,
young camels from Midian and Ephah.
They will all come from Sheba,
carrying gold and incense,
proclaiming the Lord’s praises.
‘I could do that in the dark. ‘ Have you ever heard that said or said it yourself? It speaks of the familiar, usual – something you have done so many times it has become automatic. As long as nothing is moved or changed it is easy to accomplish. The problem is that life most often isn’t familiar. There are changes constantly happening and we never know what is around the next corner. We need assistance, we need a guide.
One of the simplest things we can do when we find ourselves in the dark is to turn on a light to guide us through dark rooms and uncertain paths. Many years ago I went to a Christian Camping Workshop in Port Townsend, WA. It is a beautiful place jutting into the sound. The complex where we met for the conference was a former military base. It was later used as the set for the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman”. We arrived just in time for dinner in the mess hall. It was already dark. After dinner there was a presentation and then we had free time. The sound of waves hitting the shore is a magnet for me. I could hear the water from the sound lapping against the shore and I just wanted to go and see. At the end of the parade grounds was where I heard the water. I walked to that end. Confronted with a row of small trees and underbrush, I was also in the dark. The complex lights didn’t reach that far. I toyed with the edge, realizing that there was some kind of drop off in front of me. A few tentative ventures out with a foot while holding on to some of the brush left me a little uncertain. Ultimately I decided that the water could wait until morning when I could see. What I found in the morning was a cliff dropping 20-25 feet to the beach! The lack of light was a warning- ‘don’t proceed further without the light to see your way.’
In Isaiah 60.1-2 we experience, by the jubilation of these opening verses, how Israel longed for light. “Arise! Shine! Your light has come; the Lord’s glory has shone upon you. 2 Though darkness covers the earth and gloom the nations, the Lord will shine upon you; God’s glory will appear over you.” It was a salve for an open wound, a cure for the darkness they were enduring.
Today we celebrate Epiphany. Epiphany is a wow moment; a revealing moment; a moment when something very important if made manifest. Jesus is revealed to the world! Look back on our Advent and Christmas season. The Shepherds ‘saw’ the baby Jesus, but only observed. Going away they praised God. Later, as we saw last week, Simeon and Anna ‘saw’ and spoke prophetically about this newborn. Now, the Magi in Matthew 2:1-12 ‘sought and saw’ and paid homage to the ‘King.’ They saw a new star in the heavens and, knowing that a new star meant that a new king had been born, they travelled long-distance to find the child. After stopping for directions (uncharacteristic of men), they returned to following the star until it came to rest above the place where Jesus lay. Their actions, the giving of gifts to the Christ Child, honored the newborn King. Notice, in Isaiah 60:6, it even refers to gifts of gold and frankincense. Epiphany is an invitation for us to acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, paying homage to him with our very lives – lives lived in His light and for His glory.
Notice that for Magi the “light” guided them to the Christ Child, and the continuing effect of walking in that light, as well as the lack of light in Herod, warned them against a return to Herod. Epiphany reminds me that God wants to be our light in this complex and often dark world. God wants to lead us into real life in Christ.
There is also another effect of the light. Throughout Isaiah, one of the themes is light versus darkness. The nation was in darkness. They had drifted away from God, choosing instead to follow their own paths. That ultimately led them to complete exile. They were carried off to foreign lands, far from their beloved Jerusalem and all that they had known. The promise of restoration was first given in 49:18 [“Look up all around and see: they are all gathered; they come to you.] These words are exactly the same as verse 4 in our passage today. Isaiah 60:5 speaks to seeing, becoming radiant, and receiving the ‘family’ of God. “Then you will see and be radiant; your heart will tremble and open wide, because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you; the nations’ wealth will come to you.” This is pointing to that restoration. I find it interesting that it is described as the opening of the heart. Israel’s returning home to Jerusalem, regathering the scattered will light them up radiant, and “your heart will tremble and open wide.” With Jesus, it is the ultimate dawning, regathering, and coming home. When we receive the King of kings and Lord of lords, when we proclaim Jesus king of our lives, God’s light shines brightly on us. It might be considered the “I see” moment of becoming what God intended for us, and entering on the path of spreading God’s love and grace to others. The light ushers in a new era. We are not alone. We are not in the dark. We are walking in the light.
So, ask yourself, “Where in my life do I most need God’s light to shine?” Epiphany reminds us that God is willing and waiting to shine the light of life into our lives. Am I willing to ask for it? Amen!
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Pastor Paul Grossman