Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 60:1-6 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 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. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. 4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 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.
Turn off the lights. What do you see? You see darkness. You see shadows, dark places, gloom. Without light we stumble around in darkness, walking into things, tripping and falling. We cannot find our way. We don’t see the world as it is. We don’t see reality.
Isaiah says, “Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” In such darkness we live today. Deep spiritual darkness in which right is called wrong and wrong is called right. A world in which people reject the revealed, absolute truth of God, and put in its place a personal, individual truth which they find within themselves. A truth that ignores what is. Knowledge today is to be discovered from within a person or society. It is based on feelings. It is based on what I want. Now you can be anyone you want to be regardless of what really is. you can sit at your computer and be a super-hero, fighting off monsters, saving damsels in distress, even conquering entire civilizations. Today you are what you want to be.
A few examples from our culture today illustrate what I mean. You may have a male body, but if you feel like you are a female your gender is considered female, and the federal government is now obligating schools to allow you to use the women’s restrooms and shower rooms at school displaying your male body parts to teenage girls.
Nature is now irrelevant according to the abortionist argument that the baby inside you is not a human being but just tissue in the mother’s body that can be discarded as if it were a ruptured appendix. The objective facts of science that the baby is both living and human and quite a separate person from the mother is not an issue to the abortionist.
The recent Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage makes some revealing statements: “Rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era.” And also it states, “The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest.”
Notice how these examples reveal a new source of knowledge. It is no longer relevant what ancient sources of knowledge reveal. Nature, observable objective facts of science, is no longer relevant and no longer determine what is real. A “better informed understanding,” is “now manifest.” We have just now been illuminated and have a new source of wisdom and understanding. It comes from inside us and is based on what we want and feel, not on objective reality. The gurus of modern educational philosophy being taught today in our schools are people like Dewey, Piaget, Erik Erickson and more recently Lev Vygotsky. All see knowledge as something to be discovered by our own personal experience. Dewey’s definition of a liberal education is that children must be liberated from all authority, specifically church and family, and so on, to discover their own truth for themselves. Truth is not discovered by looking to a wisdom revealed through scriptures or classical writings and taught to us by others more learned, but by looking into the self.
However, the self is a fallen, sinful creature. In other words, today we call the darkness light. Today wisdom and understanding come from the darkness of our sinful human nature. Today the light that illumines our mind is darkness. It’s as if someone invented a “dark bulb.” The opposite of a light bulb, when you turn on a dark bulb, darkness shines out. And that darkness is what we today call the light. Jesus says, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23).
And what are the results? A society that is sick and declining. Our modern society is literally falling apart before our eyes. It is collapsing into rampant immorality, injustice, violence, hatred, even economic collapse, as social and political structures are falling apart right before our eyes. Read a history book about the fall of the Roman Empire. It sounds like you are reading the newspaper today. The chaos in government, the taxes, the welfare state, the immorality, sexual perversion of every kind, and yes, even infanticide were all what caused the fall of the Roman Empire. Rome was not conquered by an external enemy, it rotted and decayed from inside. That’s the same path our society is on today.
So, as Isaiah says, “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” Where does this darkness come from? It comes from within us. It comes from the darkened hearts we were born with. It is the darkness of sin we are born with. We are all born in darkness, in the kingdom of evil. All we see in the darkness is sin, depravity, hatred, violence, sickness and death.
But, arise, shine, your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. The Magi saw a light in the East. Living in the darkness of a pagan world, they saw a light and this light from a star guided them to the great light that had come, the baby Jesus. This prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled literally on Epiphany. The nations came to your light. Kings, to the brightness of your rising. A multitude of camels from Midian and Epah. And they brought gold and frankincense, and they bowed down and worshipped. That baby they worshipped was the light of man. The light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. He is the true light, which gives light to everyone and has come into the world.
You have beheld the great light. In baptism you received the light. It came shining in the darkness of your hearts. It came to you and the darkness has not overcome it. The light reveals a great mystery. That which was hidden from the beginning of the world, has been revealed to mankind. The mystery of God’s purpose for mankind has been revealed by the light. For in the darkness all we see is our failure, our depravity, our sin, our sickness, our death. We can see only unrighteousness and godlessness inside ourselves.
But the light that shines is the gospel of the Lord that reveals another reality. A reality that we cannot see in the spiritual darkness that covers our eyes. A reality that God alone sees and has revealed to us in the gospel of his Son Jesus Christ. A reality that the Magi saw and followed to Jesus. A reality that grows and grows throughout our season of Epiphany until we come to the Mount of Transfiguration where it shines brighter than the sun. and then it shines ever more on another mount outside Jerusalem called Calvary coming from a cross.
And that light reveals a reality which no man could see with his own eyes: instead of sin and death, that light reveals holiness and life. In the light from the cross we see ourselves as holy and righteous in the sight of God. “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law; the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” God tells us (Romans 3:21-22). We see ourselves as alive forever; living eternally. We see ourselves untied to God through our Savior Jesus Christ.
That light delivers us from this present darkness. Our darkness has been turned to light. Our night to day! Instead of seeing our sin and death, it reveals us as spotless, sinless, holy people of God, forgiven by Jesus’ death on the cross, washed clean in the water of baptism, joined to the cross of Jesus in his blood received in Holy Communion. That light reveals what no human eyes can ever see. That light shines through faith given to us by God’s Holy Spirit.
“Jesus, our eternal light, gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” God says (Galatians 1:4). “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved,” (Colossians 1:13). “God’s Son whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, delivers us from the wrath to come,” (I Thessalonians 1:10).
Therefore, arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Rejoice! Be ye glad! Lift up your eyes all around and see! And shine! Shine in the darkness of this world. Shine in the darkness of the lost souls living around you, in your home, your family, your neighborhood. For you see what others cannot see. Where there is death all around, you see life. Where there is despair, you see hope. Where there is decay and rot, you see renewal and transformation. As the lightning shines from east to west, let your light shine in the whole world. Amen.