Summary: What is Epiphany? Here’s the answer, and what it means to you.
Isaiah 60:1-6: EPIPHANY = FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT
Many people complain about how dark it is this time of the year. But imagine living in the little town of Barrow, Alaska. It’s located on the farthest northern tip of the state of Alaska, above the Arctic Circle. If you think it’s dark in Indiana this time of the year, you haven’t seen anything. In Barrow Alaska, the sun sets in the afternoon on November 18, and it doesn’t rise again until January 24. 65 days of darkness. 65 days when the sun doesn’t shine. Up there, the earth is tilted in such away that the sun never shows itself for over two months out of the year. But when the sun does rise for a moment on January 24, the whole town comes out to celebrate, because finally, there is light again.
Is the prophet Isaiah speaking to the people of Barrow, Alaska, when he writes in verse one of our Old Testament lesson for this morning: “Arise, shine, for your light has come!”? What God’s Word talks about here is a different kind of light, and a different kind of darkness. And when this special light that God speaks about begins to shine through that ugly darkness, the results are much more spectacular and joyful than anything you could experience in northern Alaska.
Today is the last day of the Christmas season. In the Christian church year, the celebration of the birth of Christ goes on for two Sundays after Christmas. Tomorrow is the official beginning of the Epiphany season of the church year. What does the word "epiphany” mean? An “epiphany” is when something reveals itself, or shows itself. For example, in Barrow, Alaska, after 65 days of darkness, the sun finally reveals its glory for everyone to see. That’s an epiphany. In the church year, the Epiphany season is when The Sun of God reveals his glory for everyone to see. For the next two months, we will be in the Epiphany season, and the Scripture readings, the hymns, the sermons – everything that you see and hear and sing and pray in our worship service will serve one purpose, and that is this – to reveal to you, to show you, the glory of your Savior Jesus Christ.
You can sum up the festival of Epiphany with one phrase, and that one phrase is the theme for our sermon this morning: FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT. “Arise,” God says to you, “Shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” The Bible pictures you and me and the rest of the world as a group of people living in darkness, people who have been waiting and waiting and waiting for the sun to rise: “See,” God says, “darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples.”
God pictures our world as a very dark place. Spiritually dark. You can see evidence of spiritual darkness by looking around you – early last week a Muslim extremist killed some Christian doctors working at a mission in Yemen. The Muslim said that he did this because he was trying to “cleanse his religion.” There you see evidence of spiritual darkness. We’ve also recently heard about the possibility of human cloning. A spokesman for this project said that this was a very important thing, because this is how a human can attain eternal life. If you are able to reproduce a clone of yourself, then you are, in a sense, able to live forever, the spokesman said. Once again, this is evidence of spiritual darkness. Look around you, watch people, listen to them talk, see what they do, and it will become very very clear to you that our world is a very dark place spiritually.
But the most frightening place to look, my friends, is within yourself. Daytime TV celebrities will tell you that there is an incredible amount of good, and an incredible amount of strength inside yourself: “If you would only reach deep within yourself, you would see how good you really are!” But this has not proven to be the case. Over and over again, people look within themselves for strength to bear up under trying circumstances, and that strength is not there. People look within themselves for something good, but the more closely you look within yourself, the more clear it becomes that there is nothing there but selfishness and materialism and selfishness and materialism. God sees your soul as a very dark place, a place full of sin.
Yes, “thick darkness is over the peoples, but…” God says, “…but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” The birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ, is described in the Bible as the rising of the sun on a very dark place. The sun rises, and the darkness disappears. What happens to the darkness of your sin and guilt when Jesus rises in your life? It disappears! Jesus shines his forgiveness and grace into your life, and the darkness in your soul disappears.