Behold, the Light
Topic: Biblical Verse: Isaiah 60:1–60:6
The Feast of the Epiphany
January 2, 2022
“Behold, the Light”
Slowly, almost without our even perceiving it, the days are getting a little longer. The shortest day of the year occurred nearly two weeks ago on December 21, and since then about a minute of additional daylight is being added to each passing day. This is welcome news to many people who struggle with something called seasonal affective disorder (Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic), also known as SAD. This is a type of depression linked to the changing of seasons from fall into winter and decreased daylight hours. On this first Sunday of the New Year, we celebrate the light of a star that guided the wise men to him who is the Light of the world. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the revealing of Jesus to the Gentile world with the coming of the wise men. The actual day of this festival is January 6, the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season, but we are observing this today. All of this is foretold by the prophet Isaiah in today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 60:1-6), which begins with these wonderful words of encouragement and hope: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 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. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3). This serves as the basis for today’s sermon under the theme, “Behold the Light!” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
During the Advent and Christmas season, the theme for preaching has been “Behold!” Week by week, we have focused on God’s promises found in the Old Testament lessons and then we have seen, we have beheld, the fulfillment of these promises which God brought about in sending his only begotten Son, Jesus. This is not mere coincidence or some sort of fluke, but as Paul the apostle writes, “All the promises of God find their Yes in him [Jesus]” (2 Corinthians 1:20a). God’s plan for us and for our salvation already started when Adam and Eve listened to another voice instead of God. That first promise of a Savior made made countless ages ago (Genesis 3:15), was fulfilled when God sent his own Son into the shattered, burned out remains of what God created to be for good and for blessing. God’s rescue plan for his creation centered in Jesus, who was born for us, who lived, died, and rose again for us – all of this “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), as Peter preached in his sermon on Pentecost. For us who live this side of all that God in Christ has done for us are still called to behold the Light; to rejoice in him who is the Light of the world (John 8:12).
Did the prophet Isaiah understand what the fulfillment of his prophecy would be? Did he behold and grasp how God would bring everything together as only God can do? The Word of God tells us this: “ Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12). I think we often take for granted the tremendous gift that we have been given: God’s promise fulfilled in God’s own Son. In this time of grace between Jesus’ first coming and his final coming, we have the incredible blessing of having received this gift by faith.
Epiphany means “to manifest, or show forth,” and that is what is happening in the Gospel lesson as those mysterious visitors from the East, the wise men, come to worship the Christ Child and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12). Jesus is manifested, shown forth, to those first Gentiles, revealing that his coming is for all people. Gold is to honor Jesus as the King of kings, the One to whom every knee must bow (Philippians 2:5-11). Frankincense is used to this very day in worship as a fragrant offering to the Lord. Frankincense honors the divine nature of Jesus who is both true God and true man. Myrrh, a gum-resin extracted from certain trees, was widely recognized for its healing properties, as well as being used for anointing the dead for burial. Myrrh honors the sacrifice of the One who was born to die; the One who would offer his life as the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). As we sang in that opening hymn, this is Jesus: our King, our God, our Sacrifice.
The effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are many and include things like feelings of sadness, inability to concentrate, trouble sleeping or oversleeping, reduced energy, among others. These are real, not imaginary. We may not all experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in our own lives, but without the Light of the world, the world around us and our very lives are affected and disordered by sin. Faith and trust in Jesus, the Light of the world, doesn’t mean that we are somehow exempt from experiencing depression. It can happen to anyone: men, women, youth, and children. To experience depression does not mean that your faith is somehow deficient or lacking. There is hope and there is help. Different therapies and treatments are available that give healing, support and encouragement for the way ahead. The Gospel lesson for Christmas Day reminds us: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9-14). The Word made flesh, the Light of the world, came to dwell among us and to be with us, not just when we are feeling strong and confident, but also when we are feeling weak, vulnerable, and uncertain.
The Epiphany star was a sign from God that the wise men knew to follow. In our own lives, discerning signs from God is no easy thing, and often difficult. What if we misinterpret or misunderstand what God is trying to tell us? What if we miss the signs entirely? God has not stopped giving signs of his grace and mercy to the world. There are signs of his great love before us today in the Means of Grace: God’s Word and Sacrament in which Christ himself comes to us with forgiveness, peace, and blessing. At the beginning of this new year, here is a call for us to be attentive, listening, and watchful for the signs – that bright star – which God places before us to lead us to Jesus, who is our light and our salvation. Behold, the Light! Amen.