Hope Lutheran Church, Irmo SC - Pastor Jason Zahn
Epiphany - January 6, 2002
"Rise and Shine!"
Dear Christian Friends,
Nearly 2000 years ago a special, bright star rose in the night sky. It was unlike any other. The men who saw it were so moved by its appearance that they rose from behind their telescopes and took a journey to a foreign land. They came riding and camels bringing with them expensive gifts. They came to see the one who had long been promised and now finally appeared on this earth. They came to see the true God who took on human flesh. They came to see their Savior.
Nearly 2000 years has passed since that first Epiphany - the time when that special star sent by God appeared to the wise men from the East. Nearly 2000 years has passed since their pilgrimage brought them face to face with their savior. Nearly 2000 years has passed since that day when it became very clear that this newborn Savior would be the Savior for all nations, ages, races, and classes. Many years may have passed but the effects of that star, the effects of that Savior remain the same. The good news of the gospel, the message of a Savior from sin also causes us to:
Rise and Shine!
I. Because your light has come
II. So you can put your light on display
III. To see what the light brings
When Isaiah first spoke the words of our text he was talking to the Old Testament people of Israel. Throughout his book of prophecy he warned of a time when a foreign nation would come and take them away. He foretold the Babylonian Captivity that would last for 70 years. More importantly though Isaiah foretold of a time when God would deliver his people from their captors. Certainly he described the time when the people of Israel would return to their homes in the land that God had promised their forefathers.
But in our text for this morning it is quite plain that Isaiah’s words also had a second fulfillment. Through Isaiah God foretold the coming of the ultimate deliverer - the eternal deliverer, the one who would come to save all people from their sins, Jesus himself. In our text for this morning God makes it plain that Jesus was coming not just for the Jews but for the gentile world as well.
That’s why we can rejoice at Christmas time - because there is such a day as Epiphany! Had Jesus come only for the Jews, my friends, we would still be the ones trapped in darkness. We would be the ones who live their lives in the shroud of ignorance and unbelief. We would be the ones who would be trapped by the thick darkness that covers the people of this earth. We would be trapped in our sin-filled way of life unaware that such lives lead only to eternal damnation and destruction.
But thanks be to God that we don’t have to be those people! Rather God has chosen to raise the brightness of his glory over our lives. The darkness of unbelief need no longer enshroud us. God has caused the star of his gospel to rise on our horizons. Through his Word and Sacraments our God has brought light to our sin-darkened lives. He has brought us face to face with the God-man, Jesus, who has earned heaven on our behalf.
Because He has shined his glorious light on our lives he wants us to rise and shine. He wants us to wake from spiritual slumber and apathy and see the light that he brings! Imagine for a few moments that you have been trapped inside a cave for many, many weeks. There was absolutely no light within the cave. As time has passed your fear of the dark passed, your eyes have grown accustomed to it, and you’re very comfortable all alone in the dark. Now imagine that a rescue team finds you and offers to lead you out of the cave to the light of day. Once you reach the mouth of the cave you notice that the sunlight is quite bright, in fact it causes your eyes some burning discomfort because they haven’t seen sunlight in so long. Now imagine that you refuse to leave the cave because of that discomfort. Instead you choose spend your life in darkness and solitude rather than feel the warmth of the sun’s rays and see the beauty of the creation around you and see those you love all because that sunlight caused your eyes a little pain at first.
Sounds silly doesn’t it? Yet don’t we sometimes treat the light of God’s Word in that exact same way! God in His Word doesn’t hold back any of the gruesome details about who were are. He tells us that we are wretched sinners by nature. We are people who deserve his wrath and punishment for all eternity. Those aren’t easy words to hear. Those words make us uncomfortable because it’s not easy to admit that we’re depraved, lost people by nature. Those words aren’t easy to hear because many times we’re quite comfortable with our pet sins and occasional naughty indulgences. How do you react when someone confronts you with your sin? How do you react when your imperfections and bad judgments are brought to light? Do you stand in the light confessing that sin and pleading for God’s forgiveness, even though it’s a bit uncomfortable? Or do you stubbornly insist on returning to the cave of the darkness of sin trying to cover them up or rationalize them away?
God urges us to rise and shine. He invites us to come into the light of His Word. While it is true that his Law causes us discomfort as we recognize what we truly are, it’s the beautiful light of the gospel that gives us the only real comfort there is. It’s that light that shows us the cross - where our forgiveness comes from. It’s there that God forgives us for those pet sins, those occasional forbidden indulgences, our sins of bad judgment, and flawed character. It’s that light which guides us on the path to eternal life. It’s that light that showers on us the warmth of God’s love for us.
Rise and shine because your light has come, the light of his Son, our Savior Jesus. Rise and shine with that light. Let the light of your faith shine brightly. Put that light on display.
That is God’s encouragement through the prophet Isaiah. We are to put the light of our faith on display for those around us. Why? So that others might see the light and come to it. We are to be beacons of light in this world. A beacon shines brightly in the night sky to warn of danger or point the way for an airplane, a ship, or an automobile. Our lives serve as beacons in a sin-darkened world when they give glory to God - in words and in actions. We want our lives to be beacons in this world in the hope that others might see our joy and thankfulness and be attracted to it. We live as beacons in the hope that we might show others the light. We do all of this so that we might warn others about the consequences of sin and lead them to see their Savior.
God wants us to be beacons to all nations. Certainly He wants us to share his Word with people who are from our own families, our own nation, our own ethnic background. But he doesn’t want our efforts to end there because the message of the gospel is intended for all nations. He wants us to reach out beyond our own homes, our own town, our own color, our own nation. He wants us to share the good news with all people, those who are in our backyards and those who live clear across the world. Our God doesn’t distinguish between race, class, or income level. He wants all people to become his sons and daughters. He wants all people to enjoy that blessed relationship with Him and with one another that is brought about through the bonds of faith.
That mission work belongs to all of us, not just our evangelism elder, not just our pastors, not just our missionaries, but to each and every one of us, young and old, weak and strong, healthy or infirm. There are many ways that we carry out that mission work - personal witness, sending a spiritual card, sharing a Bible verse, and through our offerings are just a few of the ways. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many different ways of letting our lights shine. He doesn’t prescribe one specific way - He just urges us to get out and do it!
Rise and shine as beacons to the world putting the light of our faith on display. As we let our light shine God also urges us to rise and shine so that we may see what that light brings!
Isaiah foretells the results that God will grant to his Church. He begins in verse 5, "Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;" As we rise and shine to see the light that he brings and reflect that light as beacons to the world we will be filled with joy and thanksgiving. We can’t help it! After all what a joyful station God has given us - to be his children and to be his ambassadors. What a joyful message he has shared with us that he has purchased us with the holy, precious blood of his Son. What a joyful message he has given to us to proclaim that all the people of this world have been declared not guilty of sin and that through faith in that message they are saved!
As we go forth filled with thankfulness and joy we shall see that same kind of joy and thankfulness in those brothers and sisters in the faith around us. I know that as I look at this congregation I can see it. It’s just like Isaiah foretold, "The wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord." I must concede that Isaiah’s prophecy isn’t fulfilled literally here this morning - after all I didn’t see any camels in the parking lot. But what I do see are thankful people who come to God’s house week after week. What I do see are people who bring their best and offer it to the Lord moved by their thankfulness to him - volunteering your time, using your gifts and abilities to serve in this congregation, and gladly returning to God a percentage of the financial blessings he has given to you. I see people gathered here at Hope in Irmo, SC who recognize that God has given them all they could ever want in their Savior and he continues to provide for all that they need to stay alive. That is why we seek to emulate the attitude of the wise men of long ago who brought their finest treasures and laid them at Jesus’ feet. The good news that Jesus is our Savior, is my Savior, can’t help but move me to give a generous portion of what my Savior has so generously lavished on me. As we lay our gifts upon his altar we too bring our songs of praise that glorify his name even today!
As people who live in the 21st century marked by its wireless telephones, computers, and global economy we still share some things in common with those who lived in the 1st century. When we see the light of the star of God’s gospel we together with the wise men rise to shine in the world around us because we are people who have been given the light. We are people who share the light. We are people who have seen what that light has done. May that light continue to shine brightly on, in, and through your lives to the glory of our Savior, God. Amen.