Epiphany 1 (Epiphany text)
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Isaiah 60:1-6 Sermon
January 8, 2005
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
53 "Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning"
52 "As With Gladness Men of Old"
51 "Earth Has Many A Noble City"
57 "Bright and Glorious Is The Sky"
55 "Songs of Thankfulness and Praise"
GOD'S MIRACLE OF REVELATION
TEXT (vs. 1-6) “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. Lift up your eyes round about, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far, and your daughters shall be carried in the arms. Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall thrill and rejoice because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”
I believe that we all know the importance of light over darkness. For example, if you are trying to find your way over a strange road, or you are looking for an address you’ve never been to before, I think we’d all agree that it is by far easier to find our way by the light of day, rather than at night. By the light of day, we can see things much more clearly and accurately—more so than we ever could by using a car’s headlights.
Things just don’t seem to show up too well under the cover of darkness. We might be looking at a car, which under the subdued light of the night might look pretty good; however when revealed by the light of day, we might discover it to be rusted out, and in reality quite imperfect.
Light, I believe, is one of those things that we often take for granted; however when we are suddenly plunged into darkness, or we find ourselves in need of light for a particular project, its value becomes more and more important to us.
Our text for today talks about light. The type of light that it describes is the light that only comes from God. And it is the type of light that only believers in Christ possess and carry with them in their day-to-day lives. The first verse of our text for today states, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”
Basically, when the Holy Spirit leads one in faith to know their Saviour, it is like a light in their lives illuminating a dark place, something like the light of day breaking the shades and shadows of night.
Today as we consider God’s miracle of revelation, I’d like to take a little time to show the dramatic way He accomplished this almost 2,000 years ago, revealing himself as light in a most special and miraculous way.
Epiphany was this past Thursday. The topic of Epiphany centers around the Magi following the star to the Christ Child in Bethlehem. They then presented him with gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
This of course fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in verse 6: “And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”
God revealed the birth of his Son in Bethlehem to the Magi, by the way of a star, by light, and quite dramatically at that. How dramatic this event was to these Magi, perhaps can be appreciated by looking at some historical events.
The people in those days relied much upon the position of the stars and planets. This is the way they were able to measure time, and seasons, survey land, plot courses, and figure distances. There were a group of people which were called “The Astrologers” who intently studied the sky, and knew the characteristics and patters of the moon, stars, and planets. They knew where things should be at what time, and from that, they could determine many things.
These Astrologers of old should never be confused with the current day “psychic astrologers,” who attempt to foretell someone’s future or determine someone’s life according to the stars. The Astrologers were more calendar and time keepers than anything. And the people relied upon them for many things which involved time, seasons, and the like.
These Astrologers also kept track of natural phenomenon as well, such as eclipses, comets, and other natural occurrences. These were indeed learned men, who learned from those who had gone before them, as well as learning and observing new things. And their place in virtually every culture was important—especially amongst the Jews.
Well, what happened in the sky that make these Magi know that the Saviour had been born? It was obviously something so miraculous that it could be nothing else. They knew right away that the star they saw was that of the Christ Child.
Some years back, I attended a lecture by a Dr. Kaufmanis, who was an astronomy professor at a Christian University. He had a keen interest in the star of Bethlehem, and presented a most interesting and miraculous story. Now I’m going to have to rely on my memory here, as I can’t locate the information and notes I had. But I can present the basic facts. And remember, this is but a theory; however I think that if this is in any way valid, it can only serve to more clearly show the miraculous way that God can work and reveal himself to people on earth. So here goes:
The stars and planets are in a constant and measured orbit. It doesn’t take too much to figure where a particular heavenly body is going to be, because everything moves in a regular pattern. With this in mind, it has been recorded that three planets come together once in a very great while, which I believe are Jupiter, Uranus, and Mars—but don’t quote me. Anyhow, when they do come together, they appear as a very bright morning star in the western sky just before sunrise.
History records that in the Old Testament times, whenever this particular star appeared, there was always a holy birth. It appeared at the birth of Moses, and at the birth of Abraham. So the Magi knew this phenomenon always had a heavenly birth announcement with it.
So these Astrologers, knowing the stars and planets the way they did, knew when this should happen again. However, when the star appeared in the western sky, announcing the birth of the Christ Child, it happened at a time when it would be absolutely impossible for this phenomenon to occur. The Magi knew that the planets moved in a consistent and orderly fashion; only God could somehow reorganize things according to his good pleasure.
The star that had been consistently proclaiming holy births in the past, now was proclaiming a special holy birth…the birth of the promised Messiah, prophesied for so long in the Old Testament. This bright morning star, formed by three planets in the western horizon just before sunrise, at a time which defied the natural course of things, would certainly demonstrate how God is indeed in control of the entire universe.
Now even though this is but a theory, it still has some scientific validity. In fact, it was this theory that inspired the hymnist Phillips Brooks, in his Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” to write these words: “O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth; and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.”
So who were these Magi, or Wise Men? As near as we can tell, they came from Babylon, several hundred miles to the east of Bethlehem. Babylonians for the most part were not among God’s chosen people. So how would they know about all of this?
600 or so years before this time, the Babylonian armies came and conquered the Israelites. They immigrated the Jews by the thousands into Babylon, and then destroyed Jerusalem. During this time, the prophet Daniel was on the scene. Daniel became a high ranking official in the government. Daniel also was able to bring the Word of God to the people; and so many became familiar with God’s prophecy, including the sending of a Saviour.
I would imagine that God’s Word continued to a certain degree following the fall of Babylon and the return of God’s people to Israel. Some of the Jewish Astrologers might have remained on. In any event, this word would have been handed down, especially amongst the Astrologers. They would have known about Micah’s prophecy, which tells that the Saviour would be born in Bethlehem of Judea.
So however God did it, whether it was by re-arranging the planets, or some other way, God revealed the birth of His Son to some very well respected members of society. And so these Wise Men from the east set out toward Jerusalem, with this same star leading them to the Christ Child.
And so, when they arrive in Jerusalem, they seek out Herod to find out where Bethlehem was. There was actually two Bethlehems—one in the north in the vicinity of Nazareth, and the other, Bethlehem Ephratha, just about 6 miles south of Jerusalem. It’s the latter that is specified by Micah, and was the place of Christ’s birth.
God worked a miracle in nature to announce the birth of his Son. Our text says, “Arise and shile, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” God used the light of a star to announce His Son that would be described as “the morning star” and “the light of the world.” God’s revelation was the light, and it came in the form of light as well.
But our text for today speaks of both light and darkness. In verse 2 we read, “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples.” What kind of darkness is Isaiah speaking about?
Jesus gives us a good description of this in John 3, 19-20: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light, for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
That darkness simply is sin, and the way of the devil. And unfortunately this darkness covers the earth. This darkness infects us all. We all have this love of darkness and sin as part of our nature. And what is the way we try to react to this? Let’s cover it over, let’s keep it in the dark. Shed some light on it? Oh no! We couldn’t do that. If someone were to come running with a light, we’d want to run away. There is no way that our sinful selves like to have our evil deeds exposed to the light of truth. It’s like Adam and Eve did in the garden when they fell into sin; they tried to cover themselves and hide from God, they tried to run into the dark and avoid the light.
But this is what the devil loves. This is the way Satan works. He works in the darkness. For without the light, then Satan can really go to town.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with what happens with mould and mildew. We might have clothing or other things stored in a damp cellar or shed. There it is, tucked away in the dark, folded up in a tight container. And it’s not too long before bits of mould and mildew start to appear. If its left long enough, it eats away and eventually completely destroys the clothing or other items. A pile of mouldy clothing in a stench of musty stale air can be of no value, other than to be collected together and burnt.
That’s the kind of environment that sin likes as well. Sin grows like mould in damp dark places. When we keep away from the light, sin will continue to eat away at us until we’re completely destroyed.
But there’s the light. Here comes the light! The light of the world is here, and it chases away the darkness! This light comes, as our text says: “The Lord rises upon us and his glory appears over us….lift up your eyes and look about you…you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy.” Doesn’t that sound absolutely lovely?
I compared sin and darkness with mould and mildew in a musty damp place, and how it ruins clothes. Now I ask you, how many clothes have been ruined by mould and mildew that are hanging in airy closets? Have you compared the musty smell of clothes tucked away in the dark and damp, to the smell of freshly washed clothes that are hung out to dry on a clothesline in the sun? Perhaps now we get the picture of how much difference there is between living in the darkness of sin, and living in the light of Christ.
Jesus tells us in John 3, 21: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
Here is a most important thing for us to always remember. No matter how much we have lived in the dark, no matter how far or how fast we run into the dark, the light is always there. When we come to Jesus, confessing our sins, asking him for forgiveness, then we have come into the light. We have traded that old mouldy, musty life of sin for a life that’s fresh and clean. Certainly we’ll be always tempted to run in to the dark again and again. But we are children of the light. We are sinners who have come to repentance and trust in Christ as our Saviour. We are people who are always to look to that light which is Christ for forgiveness and strength.
Think once again about the Magi, and how God revealed the light of the world to them in a most miraculous way. He announced the birth of Christ through the light of a star. So what happened then?
Herod chose to reject the light and remain in the darkness. He didn’t want this Saviour, so he slaughtered the children of Israel en masse in order to try to destroy Jesus. The Jewish officials didn’t want anything to do with him either, and some years later they would put him to death on a cross. God gave them the light, and this is what they chose to do with it.
Throughout history, Satan has been attempting to extinguish the light and plunge the world into darkness; but the light is stronger. It keeps on shining bright and strong, leading people out of the darkness, out of the mouldy and musty into the fresh air and sunshine.
So how does this light come into our souls? We haven’t had special signs in the stars, or angels visiting us out on the hillside. But God does come to us in a most miraculous way. God reveals himself to us, and miracle of miracles, he works faith in our hearts. The light of the world is revealed through the pages of Holy Scripture. There’s where we find our Saviour, the light of the world, and the forgiveness he offers, which is ours through faith alone. We know that by keeping in his Word, God will strengthen our faith; and by living the Word, we will be living lives in the light instead of the darkness.
May we always remember the words of II Peter 1, 19: “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
May God grant you a life in the light, for Jesus’ sake.