The Epiphany of Our Lord

Arise, shine, for your light has come,” says the prophet Isaiah in chapter 60. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, where the Incarnation of Jesus was made known to the world. Again, Isaiah speaks, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Over the last twelve days we’ve heard the story of our Lord’s birth. We’ve heard the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah that John would be born to prepare the way of the Messiah. We’ve heard the announcement to Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her, and she shall conceive and bear a son. We’ve heard the account of our Savior’s birth; and now today, Christmas is given to the world.

The Epiphany itself, is an ancient holiday. From its beginning, it was a holiday commemorating both the birth and Baptism of Jesus. It moves from Christmas, where God is revealed as man, to the time where the man, Jesus, is revealed as the God of all creation to creation. In our calendar today we celebrate an entire season, beginning with the arrival of the wise men where Jesus is revealed to the Gentiles. We also see His Baptism, where the Spirit rests on Jesus’ shoulder and the Father speaks from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We learn of His first miracle, the first sign that He is the Messiah, the changing of water into wine. Finally, the season ends with the Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah appear in glory to speak with Jesus concerning His exodus – His death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

But it all begins today. Today these words are fulfilled,

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 spoke the word of the Lord in a time of turmoil and suffering. The chosen people of God were fractured into two nations, with many enemies designing even further destruction. The faithful continued to hope and pray for the Messiah, longing for the Son of God to come and forgive their sins, but all they saw around themselves was thick darkness. As Isaiah said, “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” As the darkness of fear surrounded God’s people, so the darkness of sin covers the whole world. Each person goes his own way, ignoring and disregarding God’s will, striving after the wind and even hiding from the Light of the Lord.

We also are included in the darkness of sin. St. Paul says that, apart from faith in Christ, we are by nature children of wrath. St. John also says that those who walk apart from faith walk in darkness and do not practice the truth. But arise, and shine, for your Light has come. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. The Light of the world has been revealed to the nations. As the wise men were led to worship Jesus through His Word, so is Christ revealed to us in the preaching of the Gospel. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in us, and the Light of Jesus scatters the darkness of our hearts.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany. At our Lord’s birth, the Light of the World was worshipped by Angels and shepherds, but now He is been manifested to the world. Soon, we will celebrate His Baptism and Transfiguration, where it is revealed that Light of the World has also come to suffer death for the life of the world.

Rise and Shine

Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

There’s a popular children’s song called, “Rise and Shine.” It’s a song about the Flood, but the refrain repeats the words, “Rise and shine and give God the glory… [you] children of the Lord.”[1] Aside from singing that often as a child, whether in Sunday or Vacation Bible School, most of the time that phrase came up it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. “Rise and shine!,” mothers all over the world yell to wake up their children. Maybe it’s accompanied by the smell of breakfast, maybe not. The phrase, “Rise and shine,” is reference to the Old Testament text for the Epiphany, Isaiah 60:1-6. In it we heard, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”[2] In this cold, dark time of the year, and of the world in general, we are less then twelve days removed from the joy of Christmas. Today we celebrate the Epiphany, which is the revelation of God the Son in the flesh, particularly to the wise men from the East. We learn that Jesus Christ, the true Light of the World, has now come and has redeemed us from the darkness.

I.

In the text from Isaiah we hear of the future glory of Israel, a future that has now come to fulfillment in the revelation of Jesus Christ. We read, “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.”[3] The Old Testament is filled with visions and promises of the future, promises of glory and peace. It seems that at almost every corner of the Old Testament, there is some prophecy or promise of a glorious future for Israel. We Lutherans are known for seeing the Good News of God everywhere in the Bible, but we also know that there is Law with the Gospel.

Before the Lord speaks of the coming Light and His rising glory, He shows why it is necessary. He says in the previous chapter of Isaiah, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you…your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness.”[4] The Lord contends with His own people, even with us. He says that when we look around and see the world filled with evil and death, it’s not because God isn’t there. His hand is not too short to reach out and save, and He’s not deaf to our pleas. Instead, it is the sin of the world that has led things to the way they are.

God’s indictment is that the iniquities of mankind have hidden His face. His own holy people have transgressed: their hands are filled with blood, both from violence and from sacrificing to idols, their fingers are dripping with the iniquity of their actions. The transgressions then seep inwards, their lips speak lies and tongues wickedness. Their wickedness even extended to gathering for worship. God explains, “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God.”[5] Their gathering to worship was a charade. They delighted to hear God’s Word, as long as they didn’t have to change, as long as they could remain concerned only about themselves. Likewise, our sinful temptation is always to gather but then not do…at least, not until later.

Therefore, Scripture says, “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.”[6] God looked upon the thick darkness of the earth, knowing that, in it, there was no one capable of following His Law, no one capable of not sinning, no one capable of truly seeking Truth and Light, and so He resolved to do something about it. St. Paul writes in Galatians 4, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.”[7] This we celebrated at Christmas when Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, was born to redeem us from our sin.

When the wise men came to Jerusalem, they were seeking that Light, but they did not realize the extent of the darkness. When King Herod heard that they were seeking the King of the Jews, he was afraid that there would now be a credible threat to his throne. See, Herod ruled by force, and when you are a tyrant, you are always afraid of challengers. He implored the wise men to find the child and report back, so that he could worship, too. This, of course, was a lie. Herod was interested in the Light only insofar as it fit into his system. The King of the Universe would bow to him or be destroyed, or so he thought. We behave the same way when we expect that the will and Word of God as revealed in Scripture bend to our way of thinking and powers of reason.

II.

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.” Rise and shine, for your Light has come. Though the world had been covered in darkness, and in many ways is still covered in the darkness of sin, the Light has come that shines in the darkness and is not defeated. Once we were in darkness. We were each conceived in iniquity and born in sin. Before we received the gift of faith through Baptism, through the preaching of God’s Word, there was nothing truly good in us; for there is no good apart from the Light of the world. But now, in our time, in our presence, the Light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.

Once we were in darkness, fumbling our way through life. Indeed, the sin that still resides in our flesh still tries to push and pull us in whatever direction. But now, we are not in darkness, but in Light. And the Light is this: Jesus Christ, true God yet fully man, was born of the Virgin Mary. For our sake, He who knew no sin, became sin. He bore the weight of our sin, the guilt of our bloody hands – both from being at times physically violent and the angry thoughts we harbor inside, the shame of our lips which are so quick to gossip and lie, and He died. He died to exchange His righteousness for our transgression and His light for our darkness. By His resurrection, which we are united to through Holy Baptism, the power of darkness over us is obliterated by His Light.

So darkness is destroyed by the Light; Jesus Christ has come into the world to redeem us from the power of darkness, but now what? Scripture says, “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.”[8] The Light of Christ, which we receive freely through His grace, is not something that we keep to ourselves. The text says later that those who receive the Light are made radiant, made to shine outwards. Are we then to take the Light and hide it under a bushel? No!

The Light that scatters the darkness, that heals our infirmities, that frees us from the punishment we deserve, is for all people. This is revealed as well by the visit of the wise men. They were not Jews, and yet God led them by the star to revealing of the Son made flesh for the world. By this God was showing, yet again, that His free salvation is for all people. This salvation comes as a gift through faith in the Son of God, whose revealing in the flesh we celebrate today. We may be small, but as we gather to receive Christ’s gift of forgiveness through His Word and Sacrament, we are strengthened, called, and led to share the Light we receive with the world around us.

We didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate the New Year together, but as we learn from Christ’s Epiphany today we begin a new calendar year in His Light, the light the scatters the darkness of our hearts and leads us to proclaim His Word to the nations. In His name, amen.


[1] http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/r024.html

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is. 60:1.

[3] Is. 60:1–3.

[4] Is. 59:1-3.

[5] Is. 58:2.

[6] Is. 59:15–16.

[7] Gal. 4:4–5.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 60:2–3.