Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Sermon: Epiphany

6 January 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Isa 60:1-6

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Let us pray:

Joyous light of glory, of the eternal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ. We have come to the setting of the sun, and we look to the evening light. We sing to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: You are worthy of being praised with pure voices forever. O Son of God, O Giver of life: the universe proclaims your glory. Amen.

This prayer is actually a hymn. We sang it on Wednesday nights this past Advent season, and we Christians have been singing it for some 18 centuries. And in this ancient prayer, our Lord Jesus Christ is called: Phos Hilaron – the Joyous Light. And it is our Blessed and Joyous Light of Glory that the Church worldwide celebrates on this Holy Epiphany Day.

For an “epiphany” is a “manifestation,” or a “showing.” An epiphany is the taking off of the veil to show us things as they really are, an enlightenment of the underlying reality – like the unwrapping of a gift. And we, like the gift-bearing wise men of old, have been shown a great revelation of the glory of God in the most unlikely of places: in the gift of a human baby. Here, cradled in this flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, our brother according to His humanity, is our God, according to His divinity. This Jesus is truly the Light of the World, the Joyous Light, the uncreated Light, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, unlike any light in this universe. All other light is His creation or His reflection. All other light points to His glory. But He is the Light that calls all other light into being. And it is in this holy light that we can truly see, truly understand, and truly have enlightenment.

Dear friends, since the fall into sin, we have been deprived of light. We are so used to walking in the darkness that we have come to believe the normal state of life is dull, dim, dark, death-ridden, and devoid of meaning. In this sad, color-deprived world, modern man seeks validation in the neon glare of extreme entertainment, in sexual adventures, in indulgence of mind-altering experiences, and in the endless pursuit of material goods – none of which satisfy him nor bring him happiness. Fallen man continues to stumble about the darkness in a state of stupor and madness, drifting from one gutter to another until he falls the last time not to rise again.

It is into this dark and dreary existence that our Lord Jesus has come to bring light. Unlike the seedy and counterfeit glare, He is truly the Lamp unto our feet and the Light unto our path.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you,” Isaiah joyfully proclaims to us. For Jesus, the One who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, is our light. He has come to shine upon our darkened world. Listen to this contrast between the light and the darkness: “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.”

Since the fall in Eden, our world has been enshrouded in a terrible darkness. As St. Simeon sang upon seeing the Christ Child, and as we sing with Him, Jesus is truly “A Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” And as St. Zechariah sang only short time before, Jesus is the “light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,” who guides “our feet into the way of peace.”

The wise men were led by a brilliant light to a still more brilliant Light. They brought to Him gifts of glittering gold, as well as frankincense and myrrh that glow from the burning embers of a hot coal. And yet none of these glorious creaturely gifts can compare to the Gift of the Light of the Christ child which we, the nations of the world, receive.

That, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is what the glorious Epiphany is. It is the manifestation that our Lord is the Light to guide us home, to lead us out of the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace, of the Gospel, of fellowship with God. He is the uncreated, divine Light who not only shines, but pierces through, our darkened hearts of sin and death, enrobing us in the dazzling brilliance of the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

And this Christ child, this Savior and Redeemer, brings the enlightenment that all men truly desire, the peace that all of the temporary and temporal entertainments and distractions of this world cannot give, for through the prophet Isaiah, God promises us: “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult.”

“Radiant,” dear brethren! We have been given the glow of the warmth of God’s love, the penetrating blast of the Creative Might of the universe, and we have been given this radiance in the form of a tiny version of ourselves, a Baby in whose image we were created, and according to whose human nature we share. He has come not only to illuminate our dark hearts, but to banish all darkness forever. “Your heart shall thrill and exult.” And this thrill is not one that will fade away, become boring, or lose its shine.

Our Lord gave Peter, James, and John just a little taste of this radiance when He thrilled them by pulling back the veil, showing them a small glimpse of the dazzling light of His countenance. And like “mole people” from a science fiction story, their eyes were unable to process the brilliance of the light. So immersed in sin, so clouded by the Old Adam, so accustomed are we to the gloom of sin’s dark night that Jesus can only give a peek into what He offers us in eternity – a life so full of energy and light, completely devoid of sin and darkness, that there will be no need for sun and moon, as we are taught at the end of the last book of Scripture, the Revelation.

For through this Light, we are told at the beginning of the first book of Scripture, Genesis, it was through Jesus, the Word of God, that God indeed created light before all things, saying: “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The uncreated Light created light, and as Isaiah said: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this prophecy is not only about camel-riding magi from a far distant middle eastern country two thousand years ago, it is about you! You are the people “who walked in darkness,” who “dwelt in a land of deep darkness.” But no more, dear Christians! No more! For on you, a great light has shined. He continues to shine on you and be gracious unto you. He continues to radiate His glory upon all of us, allowing us poor miserable sinners to reflect His glory in our lives and through our deeds – all to His glory and the furtherance of His kingdom of light and life!

Arise and shine in splendor;
Let night to day surrender.

Your light is drawing near.

Above, the day is beaming,

In matchless beauty gleaming;

The glory of the Lord is here.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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