January 6, 2019
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
A little more than 700 years before Jesus was born, when the great prophet Isaiah wrote, conditions among God’s people were sad and depressing. King Ahaz, the perfect example of an evil king, was on the throne of Judah. Isaiah laments that so many of God’s people had rebelled against God, they had become a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly, who had forsaken the Lord (Is 1:4).
Conditions in the world weren’t any better. Darkness covered the earth. Outside of Israel, all the inhabitants of the earth, which maybe some exceptions, were not believers in God. Nations and Empires swept over and around and through Judah in a bloody and savage struggle for world domination, but little paid heed to the dim light shining from the faithful remnant in Judah.
Isaiah’s lament was not only for Him, but he looks forward to the time when the Messiah was to appear. That too would be a time without light, in which darkness and blindness covered the people of the world. When Christ came, there was righteous Zechariah and Elizabeth, an infant John the Baptist, God fearing Joseph and the young virgin Mary. A few shepherds visited the newly born savior. Godly Simeon and the prophetess Anna recognize that He was the long promised and expected Messiah. A few magi came to seek the King of the Jews. Another evil king did an evil thing and slaughtered the infants on Bethlehem in an attempt to eliminate apparent competition. But aside from these, no one seems to notice, or really care. In Bethlehem, there is cool indifference. Judea and Galilee don’t seem to recognize the light in their midst. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him (John 1:11, 10). Isaiah’s words certainly apply, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.”
These words are also true for our own time. The Light has shown for 2000 years, the Gospel has gone out into all the world. And yet there are so many who walk in darkness of unbelief and misbelief. In Nampa alone, recent survey from the Pew Forum indicate less than 50% consider themselves Christians, and only about 35% attend church on a regular basis. When we look at Christianity it seems divided into almost countless denominations. False prophets exist within the church, knowingly or ignorantly, leading people around as blind leading the blind.
What are we to do? Isaiah’s words rouse us out of the dark night of sin and captivity, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Christ has come, and He is the glory of the Lord. The coming of the Light is likely to disturb us. It is well that is does. The light scatters the darkness where we hide from the world, from our families, from our spouse, even from ourselves. But we can’t hide from God. This causes terror and comfort. King David once wrote, “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Of where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there” (Psalm 139:7-8). We are exposed, naked, baring all before the Lord. That is what it means to have the Light of Christ shine upon us. Sin must first be exposed in order to be confessed and forgiven.
What brings you here today? What sin lies in your heart, in your memory, in the darkness? What brings you to the Lord’s Supper this week, where the forgiveness of that sin is offered? People beloved of God, why are you here?
The words of the prophet answer this for us, “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.” Through the preaching of Christ, of the Gospel, people are brought by God to the Light of the World. We confess in the 3rd article of the Creed that the Holy Spirit has called, gathered, and enlightened us by the Gospel. As prophesied by Isaiah, the Magi were led by the light of the star to the infant Jesus. Here were pagan philosophers and astronomers, those the least likely to come and visit the newborn king of the Jews, showed a surprising wisdom. They kneeled down and worshipping Jesus, foreshadowing the mission to the Gentiles and the power of the Gospel, and teaching a very important truth of our faith. As you cannot know the one true God apart from Christ in His Gospel, neither can you worship God apart from Christ in His Gospel (Rev. Rick Stuckwisch). The glory of the Lord has risen, risen from the dead, so that the light of Christ might cause you to arise from the dead. The road to blessed communion with the Lord is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6).
The Church has long heeded this call of the Prophet, though imperfectly at times. From Israel, the light of salvation through the preaching of the Gospel went out to the world. The apostles went out to the world with the news of Christ’s death and resurrection for the world. The Holy Spirit used them, and faithful people throughout time to speak this Word of God to the world. And so it is in our time as well. It isn’t just happening overseas, or somewhere else. It happens here and now. The Gospel shines light into the darkness of our world, into the darkness of our lives, and leads people to Christ. To bow down and worship. To rise up and live.
Your light has come. You have been called out of the darkness of this sinful world to live as children of the light. Christ Himself says of His people, “you are the light of the world.” So arise and shine, for the light of the Gospel; Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. Amen.