Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord

                                                                                  Isa 60:1-6

          It will probably not surprise you to learn that I am a creature of habit.  Like many people, I often fall into certain patterns of doing things because I find that they help me to make sure I get things done.  And over time, these patterns themselves become almost comforting. They provide a rhythm to life that is expected and lets me now that everything is going as it should.
          My Sunday morning routine is the same week after week.  My alarm goes off at 5:45 a.m. and after showering and getting dressed I go downstairs to eat breakfast.  It is at this point that the only real variable arises since sometimes Michael gets up and we eat breakfast together, and sometimes he remains asleep like everyone else in the house.
          Next I go downstairs to the basement where I run through my sermon one last time.  After this I get in my car and drive over to church, parking at the spot on the far southeast corner of the church property.  I enjoy this quiet time on Sunday morning, before all the bustle of activity begins at church.  At this time of year, it is of course dark when I get up.  By the time I arrive at church the sun is beginning to come up, but it is still more night than day.
          This past Sunday I did this same routine, just as I do every Sunday.  I walked up to the door at the east end of the building in the waning darkness and got out my keys to unlock the door.  And just as I did so – without warning – a light suddenly flashed on above my head.  I was completely startled.  Where there had been darkness, now there was bright light.  This was not part of the routine, for it had never happened before.
          Once I had regained my senses, I looked up and to the right in order to figure out what had happened; in order to determine where this light was coming from.  I soon discovered that there now a motion activated light installed at the entrance to church and I had tripped it off. Unbeknownst to me, someone had installed this in order to help provide more security here at church. I am glad it is there – it’s a good idea to have it.  I just wish someone would have told me about it and spared me from quite a start.
          In our Old Testament lesson for the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, the prophet Isaiah describes the sudden appearance of light in the midst of darkness.  He describes the sudden arrival of God’s glory which brings joy and salvation to his people.
          Isaiah begins our text tonight by saying, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  This light is needed because of the circumstances he goes on to describe when he says, “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.” 
          Writing in the eighth century B.C., the prophet writes words of comfort for the people of Judah who would be taken into exile by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C.  God’s light – his glory would be revealed in the midst of the darkness of exile.  He would act to bring his people back and restore them to the land of Judah.
          Yet Isaiah’s words point to something even bigger than this.  The saving action by God in the sixth century B.C. pointed forward to something even great that God would do.  The exile and its suffering was simply one manifestation of a deeper problem that plagues all people.  It was simply one way that sin manifests its presence in the world.
          This darkness afflicts your life.  You experience it in the pain and suffering that come your way. But even more so, you perceive it in the thoughts you have, the things you say and the things you do – or fail to do.  You find that most of all, you are into … you.  Selfishness and self-service guide the way you deal with others. This is bad enough. But then on top of this, you find it so easy to act in petty, vindictive and just plain mean spirited ways with others.
          This is the darkness that covered the earth.  This is the darkness that covered that peoples.  And then, in the first century A.D., God did something about it.  Light entered into the darkness as the glory of the Lord was revealed in the incarnate Son of God.
          During the season of Epiphany we rejoice in the fact that the light of the glory of God appeared in Jesus Christ.  The word “epiphany” comes from a Greek word that means “to appear” or “to shine.”  We give thanks that the salvation of God appeared in our world through Jesus and began to shine forth.
          Tonight our Gospel lesson describes how God’s saving glory in Christ was revealed to Gentile magi through the light of a star. They saw a star at its rising, and interpreted this to mean that a king of the Jews had been born. Eventually, after stopping at Jerusalem, the star not only appeared, but even guided them to where the child Jesus was located in Bethlehem.  These Gentiles brought with them expensive gifts - gold and frankincense and myrrh – and gave them to Jesus.
          Knowing what happened with Jesus, it is of course impossible to hear the word’s of our Old Testament lesson and not think about the visit by the magi.  Isaiah writes, “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”  He says, “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.”
          Jesus Christ came as light into darkness.  He came to bring light into the darkness of sin. But in order to do this he submitted himself to darkness.  In the darkness of Good Friday he suffered God’s judgment against your sin. As Paul tells us, he was made to be sin for you.  He suffered the darkness of death for you and was buried in a sealed tomb.
          But on Easter, at first light, the women who went to the tomb discovered that light had dawned – the light of the resurrection. The One who had been dead was now alive!  And because he has risen from the dead, he promises that all who have shared in his death through baptism will also share in this light on the Last Day.
          This is what Christ has done for you.  But when we look carefully at our text, we find that it also talks about what you are now and about what you will do.  Isaiah writes to the people of God and says, “And nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.”  Where Israel had failed, Jesus the Christ went forth as Israel reduced to One – the Servant of the Lord – who fulfilled God’s will. And by fulfilling God’s will, he worked the salvation that applies to all people – Jew and Gentile alike.
          Though most of you are Gentiles, you have been included in the salvation that our text describes.  It is a Gospel for all nations; all peoples. The forgiveness that we could never earn for ourselves has been given to us as a gift. Through baptism we are now those who are in Christ.  We are the body of Christ.  We are the Israel of God.
          And because this is so, the words of our text apply to you in a very specific way.  On this Feast of the Epiphany we rejoice in the fact that your light has come.  The glory of the Lord has risen upon you in Jesus.  And so now the words which were true of Israel are also true of you: “And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
          In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
          You have received the saving light of Christ – a light that was one of service and sacrifice for you.  And now as those who are in Christ, you are called to reflect this light to others.  You are called to a life of service and sacrifice.  You are called to do good works – works that are good in God’s eyes only because of Jesus; works that follow the pattern of Jesus as you seek to serve others.        
          On this Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, we rejoice and give thanks to God because his saving light appeared in the darkness of this sin filled world.  In the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God you have received this light.  And now, as those who have been saved by Jesus Christ, you seek to share the light of his love with others. 

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