The Epiphany of our Lord| January 6, 2019| Rev. Rolf Preus| 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. Isaiah 60:1-6
Jesus is the light of the world. He is the glory of Israel. He is the glory of Israel because he is the light to lighten the whole world. In the Nicene Creed, we confess him as light of light. Whatever passes as spirituality apart from Jesus is the opposite. It is spiritual blindness. “Arise, shine, for your light has come!” God speaks through his prophet. He speaks to Israel. He speaks to the whole world. He speaks to those living in the darkness of sin. He speaks of the Word become flesh: the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.
God spoke through his prophet Isaiah. He spoke of the future revelation of his glory. Glory and light go together. What glorifies God is what brings light to the world. The light that has come into this world draws nations and kings to the brightness of his dawning. This morning, let us consider what this light is and why we need to have this light shine upon us and within us.
Jesus is the light. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He is the Christ: the Anointed of God, the Messiah. The prophets of the Old Testament foretold his coming. God revealed the glory of his birth to lowly shepherds. The angels preached that the glory of God was revealed in the baby. The baby shone forth the goodwill of God toward all people. The glory, peace, and goodwill of Christmas were hidden. No halo adorned Christ’s infant head. The light that enlightens all who are enlightened was hidden under apparent weakness and humility. The light is revealed in God’s word, that is, the gospel.
Jesus is the light of the world. This is because he is God in the flesh. He is true God and true man. There was never a time when he was not God. He is begotten of the Father from eternity. He joined the human race and took on our flesh and blood as a tiny little embryo in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Mary is the mother of God. As the poet says:
He whom the worlds cannot enclose
Doth in Mary’s lap repose.
The wise men from the east knew this. Clearly, they had some familiarity with the Old Testament. They knew enough to know that Jesus was the king of the Jews. They didn’t know enough to know he would be born in Bethlehem. They followed the star to learn from the Scriptures where to find Jesus. After learning from the Bible where he would be born, they set out for Bethlehem. The star they had been following reappeared until they came to Bethlehem. What did they do when they saw Jesus? Listen to what St. Matthew says:
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
They worshipped him. They saw his mother, but did not worship her. They worshipped baby Jesus. It is a sin to worship anyone but God. It is idolatry. The wise men did not commit idolatry when they worshipped Jesus because Jesus is God. Tell that to the next Jehovah’s Witness who stops by your door.
Why did God reveal his glory in his only begotten Son? Why did the eternal Son become incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary? Why did the light that enlightens a world stumbling in darkness become a baby, a boy, a man? Why did he live and why did he die? We worship a risen Lord Jesus, but he did not rise from the dead except after being crucified, dead, and buried.
God revealed his glory in his only begotten Son because there was no other way for us to find the light. We lived in darkness, thick darkness, deep, and impenetrable darkness. There was no spiritual discernment. There was only darkness and death.
There is the light without and the light within. The light without is the light that shines in the darkness. It is the light that brings spiritual enlightenment within. First, there is the light outside of us. It is Jesus as Jesus reveals himself to us in his gospel. This gospel lies outside of us before it comes into us. This is very important. We find this gospel light outside of us. We don’t look inside of us to find it. We must find it where Jesus has personally chosen to reveal it. Just as the angels told the shepherds outside of Bethlehem to find Jesus lying in a manger wrapped in strips of cloth; just as the prophet Micah told the wise men to find Jesus in Bethlehem, God tells us today to find Jesus in his gospel preached in his church, in the washing in which he gives us his Spirit and the forgiveness of sins, in the Sacrament of his body and blood, indeed, throughout the Holy Scriptures, which are the cradle that bear Christ to his church throughout the ages. Don’t look for spiritual enlightenment anywhere but in Jesus.
The Masons promise spiritual light. You ask them what it is and they appeal to the wisdom of the ages. There is a place for the wisdom of the ages. I grew up reading Aesop’s fables. There is more wisdom there than in most of the so called successful living books pawned off as Christian spiritual counsel by religious entrepreneurs today. Aesop’s fables weren’t compiled by Christians. They provide the light of the collective wisdom of the ages.
But the wisdom of man can deal only with the things of this world. Call it horizontal wisdom. It cannot ascend up to God. It can help us in succeeding here on earth. It cannot find its way to God. Only he who came down from heaven, who is in heaven at the Father’s side, can give us the light by which we can see and know and trust in God.
The people live in darkness. The religions of men surround them. Being of this world, they can advise, instruct, and guide only in matters of this world. The world’s religions – whether the rationalistic syncretism of Freemasonry that claims to be the religion that includes all religions, or the aggressive, violent, and exclusive religion of Islam, or the eastern religions seeking to escape the futility of this world to find spiritual nirvana somewhere else in the great by and by – all have one thing in common. They all teach us that the answer to our spiritual needs lies within ourselves. Find that wisdom. Search for that spark. Empty yourself of yourself. Submit wholeheartedly to Allah. Whatever the specific answer to your spiritual needs, you can be sure of one thing. The answer lies within you: in your thinking, in your doing, in your feeling, in your submitting, in your working, in your praying, or in you putting into practice the secret of true spirituality. All human religions teach essentially the same thing: The answer lies within.
But they are all lies. They are the blind leading the blind. All human religions are deep darkness because the spiritual condition of fallen mankind is spiritual blindness. By nature, we do not think spiritually enlightened thoughts or do spiritually enlightened deeds. The spirituality of the Holy Spirit – the only spirituality that enlightens anyone – is folly to us unless and until the Spirit of truth reveals it to us. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2, verses 12-14:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Did you hear that? The natural man – who we are by nature without Christ and his Spirit – thinks the gospel is foolishness. He cannot know, believe, or trust in Jesus because he is blinded by his own sin.
Arise, shine, for your light has come! You don’t draw him out of heaven. He comes of his own free will. You don’t bribe him or manipulate him into doing something for you. You don’t promise him a deal, which if he agrees to it, you’ll keep your side of the bargain. The light of the world comes to you who were in the blindness and darkness and ignorance of your own sin. He reveals grace to you.
It’s a mystery. It’s the mystery of God’s grace, revealed in Christ. See Jesus and see your God and your brother. He comes to you to forgive you all your sins. He does so by taking your sins upon himself and bearing them: their guilt, their punishment, their curse. He gives you his Spirit. He opens your mind to the truth. The Spirit changes your heart. He enlightens you. He leads you away from trusting in lies to trusting in the blood of Jesus. He persuades you that you are a saint. He teaches you the gospel. He convinces you that you have received God’s favor. Then what happens?
Then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy.
People seek out approval from the world. They look for their identities. They try to find themselves. Women mutilate their bodies to become men. Men mutilate their bodies to become women. Of course, it doesn’t work. Seeking your own identify is a fruitless search. Only God can give us our true identity. He does so in Christ.
He changes us on the inside. The light outside of us, distinct from our experience and feeling, the light that shines forth from the cross where God met his own demands upon us, wiped out the law’s accusations against us, reconciled us to himself, and set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil, has now penetrated our hearts. The light of the gospel that teaches us that our sins are forgiven and we are heaven-bound is planted inside of us where we live and move. It shows us that the life of humility and patience is the good life. It persuades us that forgiving others for their shortcomings, rather than forcing them to submit to our will is the godly way of living. The world wants to be vindicated. The light of Epiphany changes the desire for self-vindication into a desire for mercy – both to receive it from Christ and to give it to those who need it.
Spiritual enlightenment isn’t a matter of how smart you are. Some geniuses are spiritually blind, and a little child who trusts in Jesus has wisdom greater than the wisdom of the greatest philosophers. To know Christ as he reconciles us to God and forgives us all our sins, is to be filled with the wisdom that comes from God. That’s what brings us here every Sunday. That’s what we want for ourselves and those we love. Amen.