Topic: Biblical Verse: Isaiah 60:1–60:6
The Epiphany of Our Lord
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Isaiah 60:1-6 (Matthew 2:1-12)
It’s pretty dark out during the night in these months at the start of the new year. You might leave home while it’s dark. If you’re out for the day, you might not get home before it’s dark again. And yet, somehow, if you ever have to get up in the middle of the night, it’s going to be even darker. At least, that’s how it seems to work out for me. When I got married, we traded out my old bed set for my wife’s. While it’s quite nice, it was a little low to the ground. Since we wanted to make the most of the storage space that we’ve got, I went out and got a set of bed risers, large wooden blocks that sit under the frame’s built-in legs that lift it up several inches so you can have additional room for all your stuff. But as I’ve discovered, the blocks tend to stick out around the edge of the bed – especially in the dark of night. Stumbling around in the dark, I’ve managed to stub my toe on multiple occasions, even when I know those risers are down there.
I think I know a way to solve this problem: night-vision goggles! Get a pair of those going and – ta-dah! – no more stumbling around in the dark. While there might be several types of these devices, many work by amplifying very low levels of reflected light in the environment, allowing the wearer to see. With night-vision goggles, even the light streaming in through the cracks in closed blinds or the twinkling of distant stars could make the treacherous path from your bed to the kitchen or the bathroom much safer. All those hazards waiting in the darkness would lose their toe-stubbing power – so long as you watch where you’re going. How much better would your life be if you could see even in the dark?
Night-vision goggles can’t give you perfect sight, though. If you had a pair, even the days at the start of this new year could be looking pretty dark and confusing. There’s a lot of stumbling around going on as people go looking for guidance and direction, hoping to move towards a better tomorrow. Our country’s leaders can’t agree on what a brighter vision for our nation should be, much less how to get there. If you’ve made resolutions about what you’d like to achieve in the year ahead, you might be uncertain about how to see them through. Even going through your regular life might seem like you’re wandering around in the dark, afraid of stubbing your toe – or your job or your relationship or your hope for the future. If so, you’re not alone.
As our reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah puts it, “behold, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” It’s pretty dark out. You and I and every other person are prone to stumbling around when there’s no light by which we might see. The darkness that’s covering the earth goes by many names: greed, hate, thanklessness, worry. But it’s all the same darkness of sin. It’s sin that keeps us from being able to see the hazards and pitfalls that are waiting for us to run into them. It’s sin that causes greater harm than any stubbed toe. It’s sin that keeps you from being where you are meant to be.
This weekend we celebrate Jesus’ Epiphany, for the Light of the World has come to defeat the darkness of sin. The magi came to see and honor the child who had been born as the great King. Scripture and a star guided them to Jesus. This young child fulfilled the promise of God through Isaiah that God’s glory would be with His people. God had come into our darkness – not as a star in the sky to show the way in the night, but as the light that drives darkness out. Jesus, God come down to us, put an end to the dominating darkness of sin on Good Friday. On that day, God’s blinding brilliance of God’s glory would be seen as darkness covered the land for three hours while Jesus took the consequences of all our stumbling on himself. Epiphany looks forward to the daybreak of Easter, which gives proof to Jesus’ victory over sin. God came to deliver His people, and He did just that. The light of the Lord’s presence drew the magi to Jerusalem and on to the place where they found Jesus; it shines still, for God is still with His people, a beacon for all nations in a world that has been covered by darkness.
As we remember the Epiphany, Isaiah reminds us that the light of our Messiah is God’s gift for all people. Israel didn’t do anything to earn the honor of Jesus’ birth. And just as God called the magi to see the King of kings, you and I haven’t done anything special to merit coming to know Jesus. The glory of God didn’t shine on Israel because it was the greatest nation. Gold and incense didn’t come those many miles from the East to honor the people of Bethlehem and their hospitality. While you might do what you can to make a difference in our dark world, it’s not like that makes everything alright. You’re not a better person than your friend, your neighbor, or a Muslim you don’t know on the other side of the world, because each and every one of us, like the magi, need the light that Jesus brings to save us from stumbling in the darkness. Jesus alone can make you right with God, and that’s what he does out of love. His love alone brings the daybreak.
The glory of God rises on His people. As He did with the magi, God is fulfilling Isaiah’s promise with you and me, bringing us from the nations of the world. You who were once outsiders and who knew nothing but darkness have been brought into the light of the Lord’s presence in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. That changes things. It’s not as if the darkness is completely gone. Not yet. You and I still walk in a world covered by darkness. But the Holy Spirit equips us with what we need to make our way through the dark. And as cool as night-vision goggles might be, He provides us with God’s word and the sacraments that give us strength. Like those devices that allow sight in a near-absence of light, the tools that God gives to His people will allow you to see the hazards and pitfalls of sin that are just waiting for you to run into them. You’ll notice things that you wouldn’t otherwise. And like night-vision goggles, they’re even more effective when you’re watching where you’re going. As a Christian, mindful of both your need for the light of Christ and his loving willingness and power to provide it, you don’t have to stumble in the dark any longer – and you can share that light with the people around you. If you can see in the dark, you can help those around you who don’t. That doesn’t mean that you stand by and talk at them, telling them what they should and shouldn’t do; rather, you can share the light you’ve got with them. You are a forerunner of the daybreak that is coming to our dark world, reflecting the light of God’s love for the benefit of all. You’ve been entrusted with faith, which, like an inexhaustible supply of those goggles, will transform the lives of the people with whom you share it.
In grade school, one of my science fair projects made use of solar panels. Unlike the large panels that we’re seeing more and more of on green homes and in industrial settings, the tiny little versions that I had didn’t generate much electricity. They could barely get a low-wattage light bulb glowing. These days, though, solar panels are being added to more and more devices, including wireless keyboards and chargers that you can use wherever you might go. But solar panels can’t do anything without the light that makes them function. That’s what empowers them. They both take it in and reflect it. For Christians, the light that Jesus brings works much the same. You both experience and show forth God’s love in Christ. Empowered by the Holy Spirit through faith, you carry Epiphany light into the lives of the people around you. Through your words and actions, you reflect the glory of your Lord’s presence into the dark world that surrounds us. Far beyond illuminating a light bulb, God will do amazing things through you, calling the people of the nations to share in His love. You are radiant!
One day, the light of Christ will dawn in its fullness when he comes again, and all will see him. On that day, there will be no need for night-vision goggles, since darkness will be gone forever. As you wait for that day, watching where you’re going in life, empowered by God’s word and sacraments, know that He will guide you to where you are meant to be.
Yes, it’s pretty dark out – but daybreak is coming.