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 (Isaiah 60:1-3).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord, the beginning of the church season in which we celebrate the Lord Jesus manifesting Himself to the world as God. “Epiphany” comes from the word “to shine,” and the picture is of that light shining into the darkness and overtaking it.
In the past few weeks, we have been talking and singing about light—about Jesus, the Light of the world. At candlelight services on Christmas Eve, we sang about the “Son of God, love’s pure light.” We sang about how in Bethlehem’s dark streets “shineth the everlasting light.” We hailed the heaven-born Prince of Peace and reveled in the “light and life to all He brings.” Our Old Testament lesson for today proclaims, “Arise, shine, for Your light has come.” The Lord has appeared and the world should see the light of His coming. God in man is made manifest. It’s Epiphany!
Epiphany is a mission festival. The light is moving out into the darkness. And people are being drawn to the light. In our Gospel, we hear about the Magi from the east who follow a star until it casts its beams of light directly upon the house where the young Christ lives. When they find Him they bow down before Him and present Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They are the first Gentiles to worship the King of the Jews.
But Jesus is not just the King of the Jews. In Him, the Light of the world has come for all nations—Jews and Gentiles—to dispel the darkness of sin and death and hell that covers the earth and all its peoples. Therefore the light that we enjoy here, the Light that is Jesus, has to shine forth.
We don’t often think about it, but our building has walls. Walls that divide “us inside” from “those outside.” But the walls aren’t there as a barrier. The walls are there to hold up the roof and keep the rain, wind, and snow off us—not to keep the people out. That’s why the walls also have doors—there, and there, and there. Anyone can come in through the doors; in fact, we want them to come in!
But from the outside, walls can be a very real barrier. People looking at our church wonder if they can come in. And if they do come in, will they be welcome? Will they fit in? Will we give them a chance to be an active part of our congregation? Will we accept them with their own peculiarities and struggles and sins? What if they come inside and find they are still “outsiders”? How long will they stay? We on the inside must realize that the walls can be barriers between us and those outside—even if those outside only think they are barriers. That’s why we must step out from these walls, and let our light shine before others as we have opportunity. So that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven. So that they might be drawn to Jesus who is the Light of the world—both “insiders” and “outsiders.”
This is why Paul wrote the message to the Ephesians that is our Epistle lesson. He tells them about the mystery that was once only known to God, but has now been revealed to the prophets and apostles, and through them is revealed to us. The mystery is that the Gentiles—the outsiders of Paul’s day—are heirs together with the Jews of Christ’s inheritance. “Outsiders” and “insiders” are one body with Christ, are partakers together of His promises. There is no division. The doors are open. Jesus opens the door, and no one can shut it.
For us to get the full impact of Paul’s words, we need to remember that we are the outsiders in this text. I’m guessing that all of us here today were born Gentiles—not Jews, not the descendants of Abraham, not part of the covenant people God set apart for His holy purposes. But thanks be to God! The plan God fulfilled in Jesus Christ gives us also access to His presence—free and confident access to the throne room of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
As far as God’s eternal plan of salvation is concerned, that we Gentiles are on the “inside” is the surprise. It was once a mystery known only to God. It was Paul’s great joy to unveil the mystery to us, the Gentiles: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesian 3:6). Not just for the Jews, but also for us, Jesus was born, died, and rose again. Also for us, He gives citizenship in heaven and eternal inheritance with the Father forever.
That was Paul’s great message, the message God gave him to bring to people like us. Outsiders like us. Paul was not adding his little Epiphany addition to the Gospel he was given. His work was rather a small reflection of the great Epiphany, the glorious appearance and work of Jesus Christ.
All of us were born children of Adam and Eve, tied to sin in rebellion against God and sentenced to die. We lived in the darkness of sin and the shadow of death. Jesus came as a volunteer, willingly taking on Himself the form of His rebellious creatures, so that He could bring the rebellion to an end.
Next week, we celebrate His Baptism, when Jesus voluntarily, despite John the Baptist’s objections, received a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He had no sin, needed no repentance; but He stood with us, He identified Himself with us who do. In weeks to come, we will hear more about how Jesus lived and taught and touched and healed people. He let His light shine, but He let that light be covered with the darkness of sin and cross and death.
Jesus is the Light of the world, who took on flesh so that He might take you into His arms, heal your hurts, forgive your filth, and destroy your darkness. The Son of God became a human being, not to demonstrate the innocence of infancy, but to live the life we could not and to die our death so we need not.
Yet even on the cross, His light was shining. The darkness did not overcome His light. Jesus did not die for His crimes. He died for the sins of others—for outsiders like you and me. He died for people who would have ended up in hell to be punished eternally for their sins. When He said, “It is finished,” our death and our punishment were finished. The Son of God provided new life and love for us. Here is dazzling light, and eternal light.
And there is more light to come! When Christ returns, He promises to take us to the new Jerusalem, where “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (Revelation 22:5). The day is coming when we will fully share in God’s glory. Heaven’s gates are open. God and sinners are reconciled! All are invited to come in. Insiders and outsiders.
Compared to the barrier between the sinless Son of God and us poor, miserable sinners, the barriers between Jew and Gentile pale. The barrier between us and our “unchurched” neighbor is no barrier at all. We are, all of us, sinners who need a Savior. The good news is, we have one! Jesus has appeared. Jesus is here. Let there be light.
Let there be light, first of all, in our lives, where there is still too much darkness. We still try to keep God at a distance. Paul said to the Ephesians: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light… Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them… When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:8, 11, 13–14).
Let there be light. Let there be light here in the church, where we gather around the Word and message and gifts of Jesus Christ, our Light. We need to guard ourselves so our own habits, activities, attitudes, and expectations don’t block the light. We are here because Jesus Christ is the light of the world—the light no darkness can overcome. If we obscure that light, how can people who don’t know that light, come in to find it here?
Most of all this Epiphany season, let’s dedicate ourselves to the task that was Paul’s joy and make it our own—that light shines into the lives of people who need to see it. For those times we have failed to let that light shine, we repent. We beg God’s forgiveness and ask Him for strength to do better, that we might live as children of the light, whose only message is, “Let me show you the Light of the world, also for you.”
If we are not the best witnesses, we can learn to be better. And even as we are learning to be better witnesses, we can still let the light of Christ shine. We can simply tell what promises we rely on, what God has accomplished for us, and why we boldly and confidently believe that we have access to God even when we don’t always live up to the ideals of the one who is true light. When we talk about those things, we offer light to others—the Light of the world.
Think of it—everyone we know or meet is a fellow heir with us in Christ’s inheritance, a fellow member with us of the body of Christ, and potentially a fellow recipient of His promises. Just like us. Everyone has the invitation to bring joy to the courtyards of heaven by turning from the slavery of sin to the freedom from sin given by our Savior. Just like us. Everywhere we go can bring light.
Arise! Shine! You are light to the world. As you are given new birth in Baptism, as you are kept in the light of the Gospel by the preaching of the Word, as you are sustained by the body and blood of Him who is the light of salvation, so you are also honored. The Lord stands you before the dark, fearing world, as light!
Even as you are in your sinful flesh and the world sees you only in your weakness, the world is given to see your repentance, your hearing of God’s forgiveness, your humble receiving of His Sacrament, and your joyful extolling of His light! In seeing that, the world—every person living under the shroud of darkness—is given to see the light: “Arise, shine, for your light has come… and nations shall come to your light” (Isaiah 60:1,3). Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.