1st Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, studies routinely show the importance of light. We know, of course, that if a plant is going to live, it needs light. Everyone apparently needs a certain amount of Vitamin D that you get from sunlight. And in these shorter days of sunlight some people are affected with something called seasonal affective disorder where the amount of sun actually affects their emotions and may even cause depression. Well, if outward light is that important, what about inward light? What about the light and glory of God? How important is that for a person’s life? Our text from Isaiah has the answer.
But first we need to understand a bit about the whole prophecy of Isaiah. You see, Isaiah wrote to God’s people sometime in the 700s BC. His focus was the people of Judah, the southern kingdom. During his life the Assyrians came and completely destroyed the northern kingdom because they had been unfaithful to God. And God, instead of leaving them in their waywardness, he made them hurt. Pain is often God’s way of getting someone’s attention. But Isaiah is God’s spokesman to the southern kingdom and the southern kingdom had its own problems. Part of their problem was an inferiority complex. They were this tiny nation without any more influence. What happened to the good old days? What happened to the days of David and Solomon, when WE were the political players in the world? What happened to those times when foreign nations had to bring their wealth to us because WE were in charge? What happened to those days when people would bow down to us and listen to what WE had to say? The problem was that they wanted glory. And how were they going to get that glory? The popular answer was to form alliances with the big and powerful nations around them, thinking, “If we only get the right political ties to the right nations with the power, then we’ll be great again.”
But you see the error in their thinking, right? They’re looking for the wrong glory and they’re looking for it in the wrong places. But God loves His people way more than letting them continue on a path away from Him. God loves His people enough to cause them hurt, remember, pain is God’s way of getting someone’s attention. God allows the Assyrians to not only invade and destroy the Northern Kingdom but they then turned on the southern kingdom of Judah. The marched right into Judah destroying village and town and getting right to Jerusalem the capital city. The king of Assyria sends a letter the Hezekiah telling him, “Give it up, your God can’t save you, surrender.” And so, the people had a choice, rely on God or rely on themselves, trust in God or trust in human alliances to get them out of this. Hezekiah, the King, turned to God and laid the letter before the Lord. That night, God put to death 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. God alone rescued His people.
But this was going to be a continual struggle for the people of Judah. Who are you going to rely on? Are you going to search for the wrong glory and look to get it from the wrong places? So what does Isaiah warn them? He warns them that there’s going to come another time, when again they’re going to face the decision to rely on God or rely on themselves and they’re going to pick the wrong thing, they’re going to rely on themselves and the result is not what they’re hoping for, the result is that they’re going to be exiled to live in a foreign country. But God’s not going to give up on them. In fact, God’s going to make sure that they return to the land of Judah. Why so? Because although people are unfaithful, He is not. He’s going to make sure to keep His promise to send the Savior that they really need.
The root problem for the Israelites and the root problem for you and me is not our outward circumstance or our outward situation. The root problem is sin. In the chapter just before our text God says, “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.” What’s the real problem? The real problem is we look for the wrong glory and we look for it in the wrong places, we look to things for satisfaction, we look to money to solve our problems, we look for meaning and significance in our job, we look for validation from our family or our children and we lose sight of the fact that the only glory in life that really matters is being in a right relationship with God and that can only happen by what God – not we – does.
The second half of Isaiah 59 says this: God was displeased, he was appalled, he saw no one, no one to intervene and rescue these helpless people. So what did He do? His own arm worked salvation, His own righteousness sustained, He put on the breast plate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation, He went to work to win for His people the glory they could never get on their own. And right at the end of Isaiah 59 it says, “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins.” Ah! There’s the glory, there’s the light! God has defeated the real enemies of sin, death, and the devil, now there’s light due to God’s gracious deliverance.
And so how does our text begin? “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” Who is the “you” here? Who’s God talking to? He’s talking to His people. He’s talking to the faithful Israelites who were in sorrow over their sins, sitting in ashes, realizing that they’re lost without God. But this is also talking to you and me! This is talking to all God’s people from any age. We’re told to get up and shine for the glory of the Lord has come up on us. The glory isn’t only shone upon us, it’s reflected from us!
What else? “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” This is very counter-cultural. We live in a culture and a time that wants to say that everything goes, “it doesn’t matter who you believe in,” “all paths lead to God.” What’s being said here? The whole world is in darkness, lost in thick cloud, no one can see because of sin and ignorance. It’s like walking around in a pitch black room- that’s what this world is. There is only one light and it comes from the only God that exists: the God of the Bible! He alone gives light, He alone gives glory, He alone gives illumination, and if He is the only God and the only one who can save, then we shouldn’t be surprised to hear in the next verse that nations come flocking to this Light and so do kings. If you know the God of the Bible, you know the plan of salvation, you know about this baby born in Bethlehem who was born to die on a cross to pay for the sins of the world. The light and glory of God has shone on you! And it’s this light that also shines through you to others.
“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. Then you will look and be radian, 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.” People from all over the place, from every language, nation, tribe, and race are streaming to where? To you. To the Church. Believers at Isaiah’s time who looked forward to the Savior, believers through the centuries who’ve bowed down to the baby in Bethlehem, and believers today who offer their praises to this baby born to save us. You see, it’s only natural for the reaction of people who have been groping around in the darkness and then suddenly be given light to respond with gratitude and thanks. If you’re in a room when the light suddenly goes off, you’re groping around, how thankful are you to have light?
You have real glory. You have the glory of knowing that your sins are completely forgiven in this child of Bethlehem. You have the glory of knowing that you have peace with God forever. You have the glory of knowing that in God’s court room you stand innocent of all your sins. You have the glory of being a child of God through your baptism. You have the glory of receiving your Savior in the Sacrament. That’s true glory. It’s yours.
One question: Do you live like it? Are you radiant? Does your heart throb and swell with joy because of this glory? Is your life proclaiming the praises of the Lord? Or are you still searching for some fake glory, some outward glory, some earthly glory that will ultimately fail you?
Many people in our world are walking around in darkness. They’re on a search for light and glory, but it will never be lasting and eternal. Our world is full of darkness, the darkness of sin, pain, hurt, trouble, crime, disease, tragedy, and death. People are searching for light, but anything other than God is going to fail and end in total darkness.
And we could live looking not that much different. We could live lives of anger and frustration, doom and gloom. But that doesn’t come from the glory of the Lord, that comes from exchanging the glory of the Lord with something from this world. You see, if we get our glory not from the changing and fleeting things of this world, but from the unchanging and endless words of God- that we’re forgiven, at peace with God, heirs of eternal life – then not only does the glory of God shine into us, but it shines from us into a hurting world covered in the darkness of sin and unbelief. And then you and I become beacons of light – God’s light – to share the real hope, the real answer, the real glory of Jesus with others. Do you live in the Light? Amen.