Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany (transferred) - 2011

5 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:1-12 (Isa 60:1-6, Eph 3:1:12)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Darkness can be a good thing. Nobody wants to eat a nice meal in what appears to be a surgeon’s operating room. And a lot of people are unable to sleep with the light on. But typically, darkness symbolizes ignorance, crime, sneakiness, and evil.

And similarly, light symbolizes knowledge, propriety, openness, and righteousness.

Isaiah takes up this theme of darkness and light when he prophesies: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

He tells the people to “shine” with the reflected light that shines on them. It is the light of the “glory of the Lord.” It emanates from God and dispels the gloom of the sinful and fallen world. And Isaiah continues: “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.”

This darkness of our present age hangs like a pall, covering the face of the earth like a cloth draping a body in the morgue. This is the darkness of sin, of evil, of death; the darkness that causes men to stumble and despair. It is the darkness that can be overcome by one thing, and one thing alone: “but the Lord will arise upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

And listen to the prophet’s words as he elaborates, “Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult.” The darkness of the captivity of Israel will not only come to an end, but Israel shall shine like a beacon, illuminating the darkness of the Gentiles who do not know God.

The prophet speaks of camels and travelers, and of gold and frankincense being presented as gifts. And these travelers from afar are also bringing “good news, the praises of the Lord.”

Isaiah’s prophecy is called to mind every time we set up a nativity set, and the camel stands in the presence of Jesus as the wise men – usually depicted as three men – open their treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh – kingly gifts for a baby King who is also a Prophet and Priest.

For the good news of the coming of Jesus to dispel the darkness of our sin-draped and death-covered world is too radiant to be kept hidden under a veil, or contained in a manger, or hoarded by the children of Israel. No indeed! The brightness of the Lord’s coming is manifested not only in the shining of the angels in the heavens, but by the heavens themselves, as a mysterious star heralds and guides the travelers through the darkness by heavenly light to the very Light of the World, the Lord of the heavens and the earth!

The Lord Himself guides these Gentile travelers, navigating them around the dark and wicked plans of the brooding Herod, drawing them to the baby Jesus in the flesh, so that they might “worship” him. For this is no ordinary prophet, priest, or king. He is truly “the” Prophet who is the living and active prophetic voice of God; He is “the” Priest who sacrifices Himself as the all-availing oblation to atone for the sins of the whole world; and He is “the” King of the universe, the fleshly manifestation of the God who has created all things, and who governs all things – not by raw power, but by love and mercy.

This Christ child, “God in man made manifest,” is the “Light of the World that,” as John the Evangelist confesses, “no darkness can overcome.” No darkness – not even the curtain of sin, death, and the grave can stifle this beam of radiance. Not even a cold, dark tomb. For this Child is God, He is the very Light prophesied by Isaiah, and He shines forth with the very Glory of God, for He is “light of light, very God of very God.”

For that which was “hidden for ages,” namely God’s plan to “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery” is done so in Christ. He, and He alone, is the Light that dispels the darkness of sin and death. And this Light is not spread by candles or laser beams – but rather as St. Paul says, by the grace of preaching.

For the God who “created all things” is now, in Christ’s manger and at Christ’s cross, the one who “might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” And this manifestation of the Light of Christ is delivered “through the church.”

That means us, dear friends!

Our Lord Jesus, the Light Himself, preached about the light of our good works being placed on a stand, so that all may see this manifestation of Him working through us, and glorifying our Father in heaven. Our Lord dispatched the apostles into the dark and gloomy world to enlighten it with the Lord’s gifts, with the lamp of the Word of God unto our feet as a light unto our path. And this light is shared neither by burning flames nor by glowing bulbs, but with water and words, with Baptism and preaching, with the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, and the Real Presence of the Light manifested in His Holy Sacraments. For this dark mystery has been made known by revelation, to St. Paul, and through him to us.

Dear brother and sisters, listen and see how fortunate and blessed we are! Isaiah’s hearers could only dream and imagine a world where darkness could be chased away by the light of Christ. But we now know, and we have seen His glory – not in the light of a star, but rather in His manifestation among us in our lives, in the mystery of the Word’s proclamation and its power to free us from sin and death, as well as the mystery of the Sacraments, which enlighten and strengthen us, forgiving and restoring us, even as we walk and move and live in this sin-darkened world.

This “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations, dear brothers and sisters, “as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”

For here is the good news, the mystery revealed, the veil of darkness lifted, and here is the glorious radiance of the light: we are “members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

We are partakers! Partakers of the promise! The promise in Christ Jesus! This is the gospel, the good news, the manifestation and revelation of the enlightenment of the truth that in Him, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.”

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

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