Day of Epiphany - 6 January 2019
Rev. John Derme
*Knock, knock, knock* "Rise and shine!" called Mom, as she *knock, knock, knock* knocked on the door of her teenage son's room. He didn't feel like waking up, because he had been up late the night before. But he knew this was going to happen, because it was Sunday morning, and his mother loved him too much to let him miss church.
I don't even know how long people have been waking up to the words, "Rise and shine," but they are fitting words with which to greet the morning. The darkness is gone. The light has come. Leave the darkness of slumber and take part in the light of the new day.
The Lord had a similar message for his Old Testament people. That's why he sent his prophet Isaiah with the message, "Rise and shine!" "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you."
The world surrounding God's people in Israel was a very dark place. It was a world filled with evil pagan practices. For example, people actually killed their own children as sacrifices to their false gods. It was a world filled with sin and unbelief, because most of the world's people did not know the true God. Even Israel itself had its dark times, when its people wanted to be like the other nations and turned their backs on the Lord to sacrifice to false idols.
So the Lord broke into Israel's darkness with the light of his good news: the glory of the LORD is coming! The glory of the LORD is one of those very important key phrases in the Bible. When God appears to people, his glory overwhelms them. This was a huge announcement. Just as the Lord had appeared in the past to his people when he led them out of Egypt and gave them the Ten Commandments, so God was also about to appear for them again. God's people had a reason to rise and shine! They had a reason to leave behind the darkness of the world's unbelief and live in the light of the Lord's good news.
This wasn't only good news for Israel. This was good news for the world. "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm."
God had revealed himself to Israel. The rest of the world was in darkness. So when other nations would see that Israel had the light, they would come to see the glory of the LORD for themselves. That exact thing had happened before. Women like Rahab and Ruth, among many others, had come in from other peoples to become members of Israel. They recognized that the Lord is the only God, and they wanted to be his people. So the Lord promised Israel that this would happen again, in numbers that they could never imagine. Nations and kings would see that Israel's God is the Savior, and they would be drawn to his glory.
This was quite a role reversal for Israel, because they were usually the ones wanting to be like the other nations. Now, the Lord says, the other nations will want to be like you! "Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; 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." From the west and from the east nations would come to worship Israel's God. And they would be so grateful that when they came they would bring the most valuable gifts that could be given.
This promise could have sounded too good to be true for a downtrodden and despised nation like Israel. Its people were living under the control of other nations far more important than they were. But God continued to fulfill this promise. He continued to break Israel's darkness with the good news of his forgiveness. He continued to bring Gentiles to hear the good news that the Lord of Israel was also the Savior of the world.
Finally, he fulfilled this promise in its most glorious way, when his glory entered the world in the form of a child. Though the glory of the LORD was hidden in the infant Jesus, God's glory couldn't be completely contained. The heavens revealed the birth of the Savior, and a star led the wise men from a faraway nation through the darkness of night to see the light of God in Bethlehem. And what did these wise men bring with them as they traveled on their camels to see him? Just what the Lord had foretold: gold and frankincense, along with myrrh. They bowed down and worshiped the child who had been born to rescue the world from darkness and to bring people from all nations into the light. In this way the Lord brought glory to his people Israel, who had been so blessed as to be the nation through whom the Lord would shine his light.
When God used his creation to lead these great Gentiles to the infant Christ, he fulfilled the words he spoke through Isaiah in a marvelous way. Yet God's not done with these words. He has been fulfilling them ever since the magi worshiped Jesus, and he is fulfilling them even today. You see, God's Israel isn't an ethnic people. It is made up of all people who believe in him as their only Savior. Israel is the holy Christian church. And God is using his church to reveal his light to the world, just as he did with Israel in the Old Testament.
Just as in the Old Testament, our world is a very dark place. It is still a world filled with evil, pagan practices. For example, people killing their own children is even more common now. We call it abortion. It is a world filled with sin and unbelief, because most of the world's people do not know the true God. Even Christians sometimes leave the church, when they want to be like the unbelievers and turn their backs on the Lord to sacrifice to the world's idols.
So the Lord breaks into our darkness with the light of his good news: the glory of the LORD has come! The child whom the wise men worshiped is also our Savior. He was born for us! He lived for us! He died for us! Your sins, no matter how dark, are forgiven! Through this good news, God has fulfilled his promise as he led us out of our own nations and into his Israel. Rise and shine! Leave behind the darkness of the world's unbelief and live in the light of the Lord's good news. Follow the star. Mount your camel. Come and see his glory for yourself. Bring your gold and frankincense and myrrh and place them before your Savior. And the Lord is going to keep fulfilling his promise as he brings more people from every nation to worship Jesus.
"Rise and shine" are perfect words for a mother to speak to wake her teenager up to attend church, because they invite him to leave the darkness of his slumber and live in the light of the day, but more importantly, to live in the light that the Lord shines through the gospel of Jesus. "Rise and shine" are perfect words for a Lord to speak to his people to leave the darkness of unbelief and live in the light of faith. The Lord has brought his glory into our world through the child, Jesus Christ. The Lord has shone his glory into our lives through the good news about our Savior. Live in his glory. Rise and shine.