The Epiphany of Our Lord
The Church, you know how she is described in Scripture? “A royal priest hood, A holy nation!” The church is described as radiant, dressed in white – a beautiful bride walking down the aisle on her wedding day. She is described as Zion, the Lord’s Holy Hill, shining brightly, illuminating the world around her.
Does the church look like that to you? Does she appear radiant, holy, beautiful, to you and me? Or when we think of “The Church” does a different image arise in our minds. One of an oppressed and beaten down woman. One that is sapped of her strength from constant internal strife, mourning, and suffering – face in the dirt, in the depths of a cold dark night of sin.
It was into such a cold dark shameful night of sin that the Prophet Isaiah was calling. He was calling to Jerusalem, to Zion, to God’s People the OT Church. Before he gets to the verses of the text for today, in chapter 60 – Isaiah reminds Zion that it is indeed night and it’s been a night of shame.
God’s people are shamed for the way they fast, they are shamed for their halfhearted sacrifices and ceremonies – there was no sincerity in it, it was just a show. There was no real joy or strength or enthusiasm. They were certainly not glowing with a light from within! Isaiah says, the inhabitance of Zion are all like useless watchmen, all drunk, unprepared for the attack of the enemy. And so, when he attacks, they put up no fight! Rather they go back to idolatry the worship of the false god Baal or Moloch
It’s interesting that earlier Isaiah ridicules the pagan Canaanites. He basically calls them stupid, for they worship wood and stone. The works of their own hands. How foolish when the wood rots, the metal rusts and the stone chips. These gods that can’t get from point A to B on their own, rather they wobble back and forth on a cart, as they are towed along with a guard to protect them. Isaiah tells them, “You had no reason to fear those gods and you had every reason to find your strength in the LORD. The true and living God who created heaven, earth, sea and light… but Israel goes back to Moloch or Baal? The Canaanite gods? Incredible…”
This is the level of darkness to which the Holy city on the hill has fallen? Because she was weak, because her strength was sapped because of the constant threat of her enemy she grew weary, and complacent. Zion forgot her Lord. She didn’t turn to him in time of trouble. She sought what was expedient or comfortable or seemingly the easy way for her.
Just as it was for God’s people, for ancient Jerusalem, for Zion. Still, it is the realities of the dark night of sin that most affect our senses and our perception. They are indeed wearying. We see Christianity demeaned in this country, attacked from the outside by her enemies. Around the world every day Christians die for their faith even though we hear little of it.
We see the “CHURCH” capital C – fragmented in our world. There are false teachers, there are hundreds of different denominations. From our perspective the Church is fragmented and breaking apart more all the time. Often she looks less like a dignified beacon burning bright, and more like a dumpster fire.
Even in our own little church we have differing opinions, different preferences which sometimes cause unnecessary divisions. We too are susceptible to internal struggle and strife. We are a church that is familiar with mourning. Our church has known suffering. There are broken hearts here. There is weariness here. The night of sin, brings us to the ground, makes us want to faint with sleep and intoxicating complacency – to lose our enthusiasm and watchfulness.
And so don’t the titles ZION, a royal priest hood, a holy nation, sit a bit awkwardly or uncomfortably on us? It will continue to be uncomfortable so long as we look for light to come out of ourselves. Remember, we are a people that hope, against hope for hope.
Were Isaiah standing here today. He would tell us the same thing that he told ancient Zion. Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Those words ARISE, SHINE – those are not words of admonition or harsh rebuke! This cry that echoes down through the centuries “RISE SHINE,” those are words of Power that put new life into the limbs of the church. So that Zion can get up from ground upon which she has lain. When Isaiah says “Your Light” he’s not talking about an internal light. He’s talking about a light that shines on us, you and I, the church. The night of sin that brought her to the ground and threatened to crush her with sorrow, and mourning and sadness – is at an end.
This light that has broken upon us, which we were reminded of at Christmas, is the Light of Salvation! That light is a reminder that the Holy one of Heaven, the one who created light itself, loves you, Zion. The sun of God’s Grace has dawned upon the church in Christ Jesus. From him shines a light that cracks the black night of sin. His light is the gospel of forgiveness of sins. For all the times when we looked inward for strength and not to him, for when we sought some light within ourselves. For all the times we grew complacent, or wearied unenthusiastic because of our own sorrow, mourning. When we are unfaithful, our God is ever faithful. When we are weak he is our strength and emboldens us. When I look in and see a heart darkened with sin – he dispels the gloom. So, ARISE, SHINE OUR LIGHT HAS COME!
ANTICIPATE THE CONSEQUENCES:
And so, being enlightened with the Gospel message there is a mission for us implied here in the words of Isaiah. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. The church rises and shines because the Light of the Lord Shines upon her. It is the church’s mission to reveal the light to all people. This is what Israel was supposed to do. She was supposed to enlighten the gentiles to the nature of the true God and the promise of a Savior that he’d given them.
The church reflects the love God has for her, she reflects the forgiveness the Lord had for her. And we wave that torch in a dark world. Isaiah says, “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 hip. 5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy.”
Perhaps some of you have experienced a bit of that joy already. When a person that you’d been praying for wants to talk to you about who Jesus is and what he’s done. Or when you make a call to someone on the evangelism list and they’re in church the next week. When we reach out to a person who’s not been in church for a long time, and they suddenly come back. Perhaps we experienced a bit of that joy at Christmas, when a loved one came to church with you and heard that Gospel message.
We are indeed radiant as Isaiah says. And not because we shine with some glorious internal light. But because we shine with the Glory of our savior. No matter our perception, this is the truth – because we shine with the Light of Jesus, the Lord has charged us to reveal his grace, mercy, and peace. To share the light of a real hope – against hope – in a darkened world. So rise, shine, your light has come! God grant this all for Jesus sake. Amen.