“Arise, Shine; for Your Light Has Come!”

(Isaiah 60:1-6 – Epiphany – January 7, 2018)

Isaiah 60:1-6 – 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.

Dear Redeemed in the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the world:

This time of year, many people feel the effects of darkness.  These are the shortest days, when we have the least hours of daylight, and the sun is near its lowest in the sky.  In this darker time of year, many people experience the gloom of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Then too, perhaps it is a “letdown season,” now that the joy and anticipation of Christmas and the holidays is over.  It is time to put away the Christmas trees and decorations; and perhaps it seems darker without all the bright lights shining, inside and outside our homes.  It is that time when vacation is over for many.  It is time to get back into the daily routine of work and school, at just the time when it is the hardest for many to get out of bed in the cold dark mornings.

But here our text gives a wake-up call, even when things would appear to be at their darkest: “Arise, Shine; for Your Light Has Come!”  The glad tidings of Christmas joy continue in this season of Epiphany, which celebrates light of God’s salvation in Christ, our newborn Savior, shining forth to the ends of the earth.  Our text tells us of this light that 1) It has overcome the darkness, 2) It draws many to its brightness, and 3) It moves hearts to joy and praise.

1) It has overcome the darkness

In verses 1-2 the prophet Isaiah declares: “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 deep darkness spoken of here is not merely the gloomy effect of clouds overshadowing a sunless day; nor is it even the blackness of a moonless night.  It is not merely the gloominess that comes when life’s hopes and dreams are overshadowed by letdowns and disappointment; nor is it even the blackest darkness of sorrow, depression, and despair that can overtake a soul when all hope in life seems lost.  This deep darkness cannot be dispelled by the rising of the sun, or by the change of season.  This deep darkness cannot be overcome by rising to achieve worldly hopes and dreams.  It cannot be altered by medication for the body or mind.

This deep darkness is sin.  It has covered the earth since the fall of mankind.  The sinful nature darkens the soul of every son and daughter of Adam.  It covers all in a death shroud.  But there is worse darkness than the shadows of physical death and the grave.  Sin buries people in black night of spiritual death, even as they walk the earth and the days appear the brightest for them.  It is the darkness of the soul separated from the light and life of God.  It is the darkness of the soul convinced that it is finding light and life in the wisdom and pleasures of the world, which are passing and coming to nothing.  Yet, there is a worse darkness that awaits all who walk in spiritual darkness, impenitence, and unbelief.  It is the eternal separation of the soul from God in the outer darkness of hell, with weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12).

Great is the darkness that overshadows this sin-blackened world; great is the darkness that overshadows our souls as sinners.  Who of us has escaped the darkness?  Why do we put on our best front when around people whose esteem we did not wish to lose; but then, under a cover of darkness we let our sinful nature go free with selfish desires, hatred and anger, lust, envy, etc. (Galatians 5:19-21). Why do we hide when we know we are doing something wrong?  Is it not because we feel the darkness of guilt overshadowing our conscience?  Is it not because we fear the punishment we deserve?  But who can hide from the all seeing eye of God?  Who can claim to have overcome the darkness of sin, in a life shining with the perfection God demands?  Who could ever expect to rise above the darkness of sin, to dwell with God in His holy light forever?

But now, amidst the deep darkness that has overcome all, God announces good news: “Arise, shine; for your light has come!”  Where there is light there is hope!  The light spoken here is not just the rising of the sun after a dark night, nor the climbing of the sun higher in the sky with the coming of warmer days.  This light is not some impersonal force of nature: “But the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.”  He is the Savior of sinners whom God promised since the fall.  John 1:4-5, 9, 14 says: In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…  That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world… and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

With the birth of God’s Son in our flesh came the dawning of a new day – the day of God’s grace and favor on the fallen children of Adam.  Our very Creator, who gives life and light to all, entered the darkness of our sinful existence.  At Christmas, the glory of the Lord shone with brilliant light from heaven around the shepherds, as the angel announced “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:9-10); for He came into the world to shine His light of salvation on sinners and restore eternal life to us.  We again get a glimpse of His glory at His Transfiguration, when His divine nature shone through His flesh like the sun (Matthew 17:2)

But in order to overcome our deep darkness, He had to deal with our sin.  The innocent Son of God, in whom there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), became sin for us.  He felt the deep darkness of a world of sinners in Himself.  On His way to the cross, He told His disciples: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).  Then on the cross, He felt all our guilt and punishment in His body and soul.  As deep darkness covered all the land in those agonizing hours, He felt the God-forsakenness of the Sinner in our place (Matthew 27:45-46).

But through the righteous act of this one Man, the second Adam, God’s free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life (Romans 5:18).  With all our sins taken away in Christ, the darkness of our separation from God is removed; God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:19).  And with sin removed, death has lost its sting: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23).

The Son is risen!  The darkness is dispelled!  Over all the dark clouds of this world, the Son shines in all His glory as our Savior.  Even death is but shadow; He who has gone through that dark valley for us, will bring us into the eternal glories of His heaven.  Truly, as God foretold in Isaiah 9:2: 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.”  Where there is light, there is hope.  In Christ, who is the Light and Life for all men, we are given eternal life and hope.

Therefore, no more is our life defined by the darkness.  As the apostle Paul told believers in Ephesians 5:8: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light.”  Each day, through faith in Christ, we walk in the light of His truth.  We come into His light, confessing our sins and repenting; and we go forth as baptized children of God, washed of all our sins by the blood of His Son, walking in newness of life by His Spirit.

2) It draws many to its brightness

“Arise, shine; for your light has come!”  Yes, He is your light!  The glory of the LORD is risen upon you” as your Savior!  And now, this light draws many to its brightness.

When God spoke these words to the people of Israel, He wanted to comfort them with the coming of their Savior, who would be born in their midst.  But not only is Jesus the glory of His people Israel; He is a light to lighten the Gentiles.  As Isaiah goes on to say in verses 3-4: “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.”

This is the message of Epiphany: Jesus is revealed as the Light of the world, the Savior for all.  Just as the darkness of sin covers all people on earth – both Jew and Gentile – so the light of Christ’s Gospel shines like a beacon to all nations, bringing good tidings of salvation for all. (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8).

At Epiphany, God the Father provided a special star to shine over His Son, leading the Wise Men from the East to come and worship Him (Matthew 2:1-12).  From that time, the train of believers, led by the light of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, continue to be drawn to Christ, the Light of the world.  “Gentiles… and kings…” people from “all around…” – from people of high standing like the wise men, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Roman centurion; down to people of low standing, like fishermen, servants – men and women, disciples of every age.  By faith, the sons of God are brought from afar, and daughters are nursed at His side; through His Word and Sacraments, all are gathered and nourished in faith.  All are drawn to Christ, the true Light.

And as the glory of the Lord shines upon us in Christ, His Light shines through us to others.  Jesus said to every believer: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  Philippians 2:15-16 reminds us: you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.”  As we live in the light of His Word, witnessing the hope that is in us in Christ (1 Peter 3:15), others will be drawn to the same light of His salvation, and eternal life and hope.

3) It moves hearts to joy and praise

All of this moves our hearts to joy and praise, as our text now tells us in verses 5-6: “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.”

We can rejoice daily in the Light of the Gospel, knowing God’s forgiveness and eternal life in Christ.  At the same time, it makes our hearts swell with joy to see the Gospel working in the hearts of others.  As the apostle Paul preached the Gospel, he saw its power at work, bringing sinners to Christ; and he was radiant, exclaiming in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20: For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?  Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?  For you are our glory and joy.”

And from hearts that rejoice in Christ also comes praise.  When the wise men had followed the guiding light God provided, in light of His Word and promise, they rejoiced to see Christ – the one who had been born, not only the King of the Jews, but the Savior of the world.  They “fell down and worshiped Him.  And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).  Like those wise men, rejoicing to see our Savior, we can proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of the darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  In the joy of His salvation, we can serve the Lord with all the gifts He gives.  We can offer our gold in His service, to help spread the good tidings of His Gospel at home and abroad.  We can lift up our prayers as incense, in the words of the hymn:

O Christ, our true and only Light, Enlighten those who sit in night;
Let those afar now hear Thy voice And in Thy fold with us rejoice.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come!”  The good tidings of Christmas joy continue in this season of Epiphany, and every day.  No matter how dark and gloomy life may be in this fallen world, our true Light always shines brightly with hope.  Christ has overcome the darkness of sin and death for us.  The risen Son shines the light of His salvation and eternal life for all to see.  As we live each day in the light of His glory, He moves our hearts to joy and praise.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  Amen.