The Epiphany of our Lord
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 3:19-21 Sermon
January 6, 2010
(Note: This sermon was preached on January 10, the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany; our Epiphany service scheduled for January 6 was cancelled due to inclement weather.)
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
53 "Brightest And Best Of The Sons Of The Morning"
--- "When Christ Our Lord To Jordan Came"
--- "Now Honor The Lord"
--- "To Jordan's River Came Our Lord"
THE WARMTH OF THE LIGHT
TEXT: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 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."
One of the projects I had on my hands earlier this past year, was the task of remodeling my bathroom. It was "extreme make-over, bathroom edition" in my house, because we literally tore everything out. And then we replaced the rotting floor, several walls, and a window. We then installed new plumbing fixtures, including a new shower stall.
One of the things I installed was an exhaust fan. And as I was running the wire through the open walls, I decided to run two wires instead. One would be for the exhaust fan, and the other would be for one of these (holds up a heat lamp bulb). Many hotels and motels have these things installed in their bathrooms, and I appreciate having them. So I figured, why not have one in my new bathroom too? It wasn't too much extra work or expense, so I went ahead and installed one just over the edge of the shower door. And let me tell you, I'm certainly glad I did it, especially on these very cold days we've been having.
I'm no stranger to these heat lamps. I remember as a child calling them "brooder house lights," because that's where I always saw them. Have you ever seen how they work when they're used in a brooder house?
First off, let me tell you what a brooder house is, just in case you don't know. It's basically another name for a chicken house, except this is specifically a warm place for hens to have their brood of chicks and raise them.
If you've ever seen or picked up a baby chick, you know how delicate they are. Their feathers are yellow and soft and fuzzy. They haven't become acclimated to cold weather either. So what a farmer does, is to take one of these heat lamps, and screw it into a socket on the end of an extension cord. Then this heat lamp on a cord is suspended from one of the beams in the building so it is hanging in relatively close proximity to the floor. You want it close enough to give warmth, but not so close that you wind up burning and hurting the birds.
So now, if you stand outside of a brooder house on a cold winter's night, you'll hear this massive peeping sound from the baby chicks. And when you go in, you'll see them all huddled together standing under this heat lamp. They are attracted by the light and the warmth they can feel; and then by remaining in a group together, they keep warmer still from each other's body heat. Even though birds are not considered mammals, they are still warm-blooded creatures.
Every farmer realizes too that there will be some casualties along the way. There will be the occasional birds who, for some reason or another, won't be with the group. They are found outside of the group, outside of the warmth of the heat lamp, away from the warmth of others, and frozen stiff. Without that warmth from the light, death is a certain thing for them. And it seems like no matter what you do, even if you pick a freezing animal and plop it down in the middle of the brood, there will always be those who will go off by themselves and die as a result.
Tonight we are celebrating the Epiphany of our Lord. The word "Epiphany" means to "manifest" or "appear." In a direct sense, we use this word to describe the appearing of the special star in the eastern sky that led the magi, or wise men from the area of Babylon to the land of Judah, and then to Bethlehem where the Christ child would be found. And then in another sense, we talk about Epiphany being the time that Christ had manifested himself or revealed himself to the people on the earth. The Saviour of all nations, peoples, tribes, and tongues had come into the world.
The Bible describes Jesus as being the light of the world. Just a few minutes ago, we read from the first chapter of John's Gospel. Verse 4 says, "4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men." Light and life are very much connected here.
In our text for this evening, John records a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. These church officials were opposed to Jesus; however Nicodemus recognized Jesus for who he was. So, because he feared his peers, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. He wants to know about salvation, and what it would take to be saved. Part of the response Jesus gives to him are the words of the very familiar John chapter 3 verses 16-17: "16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
Whoever comes to Jesus in faith alone is saved. It's a simple concept. And more importantly, Jesus uses an all-inclusive term. He says "whoever"--"whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." He doesn't restrict salvation to the Jews, or to the rich, or to any particular class of people. The salvation Jesus gives is something that everybody can have--everybody who believes in him.
Now I realize that the whole "salvation by faith alone through grace alone" concept is nothing new to most of you. It's one of the basic tenets of Christianity. However when we apply this in the context of Epiphany, something is happening here that would shape the entire future of the Holy Christian Church. And that "something" is demonstrated by the three wise men themselves.
You see, those wise men, or magi, were NOT Jewish! In fact, they were anything but Jewish! These men came from the east, from Babylon. They made the journey to the land of Judah, a distance of about 500 miles (or about 805 km.). Considering the distance and the dedication of these men, plus the fact that they were carrying gifts of substantial value with them, this had to be one very special birth! Not only was it special in the general sense, but it was special to them in a personal sense.
The wise men are the first non-Jews to come to the Saviour. Everybody else surrounding the nativity, such as Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna, these were all Jewish people. It only stands to reason too, since Christ's birth occurred in Jewish country. But here come the Magi, and they give a whole new meaning to salvation. Because now, we have positive proof that Christ came to save everybody in the entire world, and not just those of Hebrew ancestry. The people who would come to Jesus in faith would be considered, as Jesus later points out, true sons of Abraham.
So how did these wise men know what to do? Why did they follow this star? To find the answer, we have to turn back the clock about 600 years before Jesus was born. During this time, the prophet Daniel was on the scene. The Babylonians had conquered the Hebrews, and carried them off into captivity in Babylon over the course of many years.
Daniel, because of his youth and intelligence, was one of the first ones to journey to Babylon. And during his time there, he gained such a favorable standing in the government that he was put in charge of all the wise men. In this capacity, he would have most likely schooled all the wise men of that day about Biblical prophecy concerning the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews, the Saviour of the world. And every generation thereafter would have had this teaching passed along to them, right up until the time of the wise men connected with the Christmas story.
We should note that the Bible doesn't specifically say there were three of them; however we speak of them as being three, because of the three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And according to tradition, their names were: Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, although this is nothing more than pure speculation.
But they knew what it was all about, and that's the important thing. They knew that the Saviour would be born in Bethlehem in the land of Judea. And so upon arriving in Jerusalem, they asked the question recorded for us in Matthew chapter 2 verse 2: "...Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
They had followed the star. They came to find the King of the Jews who would be much more than that; he would be the Saviour of the world, and their Saviour too.
The light of Bethlehem's star proclaimed the birth of the Light of the World. Once again, hear the words John records in Chapter 1 verses 4-5: "4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."
Turn your thoughts for a moment back a bit from the time of the wise men, back to when Jesus was just eight days old. Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to be circumcised. And there in the temple was a man by the name of Simeon. When he took the Christ Child into his arms, Luke chapter 2 verse 32 records a portion of what he says: "a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."
Even though they knew the miraculous nature of this birth, Mary and Joseph most likely didn't fully comprehend the magnitude of what had happened. They probably didn't expect to be visited by Babylonian dignitaries. And I would also doubt if they realized this new-born Saviour would bring life and salvation to the entire world, both Jew and Gentile alike. But the words of Simeon along with the arrival of the Magi from the east would have created a beautiful picture about how God's love and grace is extended to all of humanity, regardless of who they are or where they might live. Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus the Saviour would be the key to unlock heaven's door for everybody; for all of humanity for all time.
When we talk about Christ being the light of life, the true light that brings life to all people, I can't help but think of that heat lamp in the brooder house. The Bible says that we are like sheep that have gone astray, but in this case I think we can apply the metaphor that we are all like baby chicks. They see the light, they feel the warmth, and so they gather together under that light. By doing this, they have found life where there would otherwise be death.
Certainly there will be those chicks who refuse to come into the light. They will separate themselves from the group, find a dark corner, and subsequently freeze to death. It's not because there is no warmth or light; rather, it's because those chicks stubbornly refuse to be saved.
Jesus also laments people who act like this. In Luke chapter 13 verse 34 Jesus uses the metaphor of a baby chick when he says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" Jesus is more than willing to provide life and salvation, but there are people who will still persistently refuse. It's like our text for today says in verse 19: "...Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light..."
Today we celebrate that light that has come into our lives and saves us from our sins. Through faith alone, which is God's gift given to us by the Holy Spirit, we have accepted Christ into our hearts and lives. Therefore we can proclaim with the hymnwriter: "Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth. Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born king."