Pastor Schroeder

Sermon text: Isaiah 60:1-6

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Even if you aren’t much of a philosopher, you have probably heard of one of the most well-known names in the history of philosophy—the ancient Greek thinker known as Plato.  One of Plato’s greatest works is called “The Allegory of the Cave,” and it begins with a number of men in an awful situation.  They have been chained for their entire lives to a wall, and all that they have ever seen in their entire lives are the shadows that appear on the back wall of the cave.  Since the shadows are all they know, the shadows are their life, what they consider the reality of the world to be—that is, until one of them is freed. 

Eventually, as his eyes adjust to his true surroundings, the wanderer makes his way past the fire that was casting the shadows on the wall, and then he sees an even brighter light—the opening of the cave.  Finally he makes his way out of the cave and sees the world for the very first time… 

What word would you use to describe that man’s experience?  Certainly, you could call it a discovery, a revelation, an “Aha!” moment, some might say...  But perhaps the best word we could use to describe it is to say that the man had an “epiphany.”  He came to a sudden realization of a greater reality than he had ever known before, all because he stepped out into the light. 

And by God’s grace, so have we.  That’s what today is all about.  As we observe the festival of the Epiphany, what are we celebrating?  Nothing less than the amazing truth that in the Word made flesh, in Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, in the Lord worshipped by shepherds and angels and Magi, we have seen the light.  Let’s look again at the opening verses of Isaiah 60.  “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 2See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

The great tragedy in the beginning of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave isn’t just that the men are in the dark.  It’s worse than that.  The great tragedy is that they don’t even know that they are in the dark.  When Isaiah writes about darkness, he is talking about the enslaving darkness of sin and unbelief, a spiritual darkness so thick and so overwhelming that the people in darkness don’t even know that they are in the dark. 

It is a fitting picture of the way we all come into this world: lost and condemned creatures, blind to our own sin, and unaware of just how desperate we really were.  In the previous chapter, Isaiah writes about how sin affects our relationship with God.  He says, “your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” 

All of that means that we couldn’t come to God.  But God came to us, in the little town of Bethlehem.  The Glory of the Lord shone more brightly than ever upon our sin-darkened world, even though his glory was veiled in humanity.  Or to put it another way, the Glory of the Lord shone more brightly than ever upon our sin-darkened world BECAUSE it was veiled in humanity. 

The one before whom the Magi bowed would one day bow before sinners and wash their feet in humility and service.  The one to whom the wise men gave precious gifts would one day give sinners a far more valuable gift as he shed his holy, precious blood to wash away sins.  The one who escaped evil King Herod as a child when Mary and Joseph took him to Egypt would one day refuse to escape his own cross at the hands of sinners, even praying “Father, forgive them…” as they pounded nails through his hands and feet.  And the one whose death was marked by a three-hour darkness would one day shine even more brightly as he made his way out of the cave and stepped into the light on Easter morning. 

And so, even though we all were born slaves to sin, surrounded by darkness, God reached out to each of us individually with an Epiphany invitation:  “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”  You have been brought into the light, rescued from the darkness of sin and death, forgiven and made new in Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.  See the light!  Bask in the warmth of your Savior, and praise him with every aspect of your life, the new life you were given as God the Holy Spirit enlightened your once-darkened heart through Baptism and through the powerful Word of God!

Let’s read on: 3Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. 5Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. 6Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

You have seen the light…Now what?  Some of you know how the Allegory of the Cave ends.  For those of you who don’t, here it is.  Again, a man has found freedom from chains, freedom from the cave, freedom from a life of darkness; he has seen the light and found a new life.  So what does he do then?  He goes back in—not because he likes it there, but because he wants to share the light with those who are still in darkness.

How do we respond to the light of the gospel, the light of Jesus Christ?  Consider the wise men.  They bowed down in worship; so do we.  They gave gifts, and that was fitting; it is appropriate to show generosity to our Savior in appreciation for his generous and selfless sacrifice.  We aim to do that, too.  But there’s more. 

The very last verse of our gospel reading says, “They returned to their country” (Matthew 2:12)… We don’t know exactly where they came from, but we can say with certainty that it was not a Jewish nation.  They saw the light, first in the sky, and then a far greater light when they saw the child, and we are told that they were overjoyed.  Then they most certainly took some light back out into the darkness as they returned with a message to share: the newborn King of the Jews is the Savior of all nations. 

What about us?  Not many of us have international travel plans in the near future.  Most of us wouldn’t even notice if a new star appeared in the sky.  But as a congregation we have a message to share, and it is the same one that the wise men carried with them after they left Bethlehem.  The one who was once the Newborn King is still the Savior of all nations.  Through the gifts given to the Lord in offerings to this church and many others, the gifts that carry out the ministry of the gospel, the light shines in the darkness.  Souls are brought to their Savior.  Through tuition dollars paid to our school and many others, the light shines in the darkness.  Souls are brought to their Savior.  In every worship service, Bible Study, and Sunday School session, the light shines in the darkness, and souls are brought even closer to their Savior. 

But it isn’t just as a congregation.  Every single one of us who has been led to find the light is now called to shine the light.  Another way of saying it is that all who see the light are now called to be the light in your part of our world.  After church today, you will return to your home.  Take some light with you.  When you go to work or school or wherever you go this coming week, take some light with you.  Show the humility of Jesus in your life, serve others with his love, and every chance you get, let people know that the child born in Bethlehem is the Savior of all nations.  Do you know what you will then find?

As Isaiah writes, 5Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy.  We have had an Epiphany; we have seen the light.  May our God now give us the joy of sharing the light of Jesus with those in our dark world.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.