Text: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations 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 carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:1-6)
Outside of the book of Revelation, with the amazing descriptions that Revelation contains of the “new heavens and the new earth,” the Day when He will be our God and we will be His people, when He will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away and He who is seated on the throne says, “Behold, I am making all things new,” there are few books of the Bible that are as beautiful and comforting, that make promises as wonderful, as the book of Isaiah.
It is from the prophet Isaiah that we read, for example, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well- aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:6-9).
It is also Isaiah who writes, “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:13-16).
Or there is one of my favorites: “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (Isaiah 26:19).
It is also Isaiah who penned the famous words: “[Out] of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:1-5).
Could the promises be any more wonderful? Could his words be any more beautiful and comforting? We are, to say the least, surrounded by darkness. I know, we’ve carved out for ourselves a nice, quiet, comfortable, peaceful, safe, generally happy little corner of the world for ourselves here in the Gateway to the Thumb. Yet, even here, we’re far from immune. But let’s say that we are, for the moment, just for the sake of argument. Let’s imagine that we do, in fact, live in a perfect recreation of Mayberry. Let’s imagine that it’s only down there in the big city where things are hopeless. Let’s imagine that it’s only way over there in the Middle East where things are really that dangerous. Imagine that, for a moment. Do you suppose—to borrow from our Lord—that things are hopeless in Flint or downtown Detroit because the people there are worse sinners than you? Do you suppose that there is more evil within the people in the Middle East that brings about such violence? No, I tell you. But unless you repent, you will likewise perish!
But we’re not immune from the darkness. Our sins are far more sanitary, shall we say. They’re carefully explained and excusable and justified. They’re carried out safely tucked away out of sight. They’re covered with the veneer of respectability that the word ‘consent’ seems to give in our day. We’re not immune from the darkness and our relationships, our homes, even our very bodies themselves, carry the scars to prove it.
And into this darkness come all of those words of Isaiah, promising that wonderful day: the Day of the Lord. Better yet, into this darkness come the words of Isaiah from our text: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.”
This is not some dim, distant day in the future. The good news of Epiphany is that it’s here! It’s begun! “And nations 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….”
What took place on that first Epiphany? They came, bringing gold and frankincense, bringing good news, bringing the praises of the Lord.” It’s begun! It’s here! As the wise men arrived and knelt in worship and offered the wealth of the nations, offered frankincense and myrrh, this, too, took place to fulfill what the prophet Isaiah had written: “Arise, shine, your light has come, the glory of the Lord has risen on you.” God reveals Himself in Jesus Christ.
This is what Paul calls “[The] mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” He clarifies: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
Did you catch that? Not only does Epiphany mark the beginning of the end-times promises Isaiah describes so beautifully, but through the church “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known.” We do that by preaching foolishness. We make known the wisdom of God by pointing people to the cross. We make known the wisdom of God by pointing people to the Word and sacraments.
Recently there’s been a post making the rounds on Facebook in some circles. It has a list of things that, it says, won’t save you. It lists things like “going to church, baptism, religion, holy communion,” and a few others. Then it lists only one thing that will save you: Jesus Christ. It’s really astounding how completely right and completely wrong that post is at the same time. For many people, I suppose it’s true that their religion doesn’t save them. But yours does. Why does your religion save you? Because it brings you Jesus Christ. It brings you Jesus Christ in the Word and sacraments. It actually connects you to Him.
This past Wednesday was actually Epiphany. I actually got the chance to talk the Men’s Bible study and with our Kindergarteners about what it is. What (the kids, at least) really got the biggest kick out of was a quote from Martin Luther that I mentioned: “Therefore let your own thoughts and feelings go, and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines, which can never be worked out, so that you may find the wisdom of God that He lays before you in such foolish and simple guise, in order that He may quench all pride. Here [in the Scriptures] you will find the swaddling-clothes and the mangers in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds. Simple and little are the swaddling-clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them” (Introduction to the Old Testament, 1545). The Bible, Luther says, are the swaddling clothes and the manger in which Christ lies.
What the kids especially enjoyed was the idea, the image, of a baby lying in an open book. They’re right, it is sort of a silly image if you take it literally. I’m not sure a big book would be very comfortable. But Luther’s pointing out that the power of God’s Word is that it brings you Jesus Christ. The same goes with baptism. In the waters of baptism you found Jesus Christ. You were united with Him. You were clothed with Him. And, because of that, you have died to sin and risen to new life. The same thing is true about Holy Communion. In, with, and under that bread and wine you receive Jesus Christ and, with Him, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
One of the great blessings of Epiphany is that it points us to our star. It shows us where to look for Jesus Christ. The wise men had their sign that directed them where to look for the one who had been born King of the Jews. We have our own. We are pointed to the Word. We are pointed to water. We are pointed to bread and wine. Because He is here. It has begun!
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”