Arise! Shine!

Isaiah 60:1-6

1 Arise! Shine! Your light has come; the LORD’s glory has shone upon you. 2 Though darkness covers the earth and gloom the nations, the LORD will shine upon you; God’s glory will appear over you. 3 Nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning radiance. 4 Lift up your eyes and look all around: they are all gathered; they have come to you. Your sons will come from far away, and your daughters on caregivers’ hips. 5 Then you will see and be radiant; your heart will tremble and open wide, because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you; the nations’ wealth will come to you. 6 Countless camels will cover your land, young camels from Midian and Ephah. They will all come from Sheba, carrying gold and incense, proclaiming the LORD’s praises. (CEB)

Arise! Shine!

On this Sunday we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, which actually falls on January 6. For those of us in the Western Church the Epiphany is the celebration of the revealing of God’s mysteries to the Gentiles, the inclusion of the Gentiles as heirs to God’s promises, and also the inclusion of the Gentiles as part of God’s beloved people.

Isaiah speaks of the coming of God into the world as a brilliant light. The light—this gift of God—carries with it the power to transform and restore God’s people. What’s more, those who are considered outsiders are inevitably drawn in so that everyone, every nation, every people, will come to the light.

Before Isaiah preached this message, Israel had been through a long season of darkness and despair in their exile. Isaiah promises a season of light is coming. In Israel’s worship life, God’s coming in power is often described as the coming of light, or glory. God’s glory shines, and when God’s glory shines, Israel lives in the glow, and is itself a presence of light in the world.

My kids love learning about astronomy. So much so that our big family Christmas gift this year was an eight-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. In fact, after I drove in this morning, I stood in the parking lot and kept looking at the sky. Saturn, Venus, Mars, the moon, Spica, and Jupiter were all shining along the Ecliptic. It was amazing!

My children know that planets and moons don’t produce their own light. Sunlight is almost always touching them, but we don’t see the reflection of that light unless the stellar bodies are in the right place. It’s then that we can say they arise and shine. It’s then that their brightness shines in the darkness.

It is the same way with God’s people. God’s light has come, but are we reflecting the glow? We live in a world where, sometimes, all we can see is darkness. Isaiah prompts us to get up and move into the light. Arise! Shine! The light of God is right there, shining in the darkness. God has arisen upon us, and we’re told to look up and see. The world has shifted. It’s a move from a sense of God’s absence to the truth of God’s presence: from despair to hope, from dismay to well-being.

God has come into the world! God’s arrival transforms everything. Israel is told, “Arise, shine.” These are both imperatives. They are demands. It is a command for us to come in from the darkness into the presence of God’s glorious light.

We can arise and shine because our light has come and “the glory of the Lord” has risen upon us. The light in question is God’s and ours. It’s God’s light which shines for us. God has always been our only hope. The light – “your light” – is an intrusion into our world. It’s a beacon which draws us near and commands that we let the light of God shine through us. When we stand in the light, we share in its brilliance and reflect its brightness for others to see.

When we look at the first two verses of Isaiah’s oracle, we can see that God’s glory is mentioned in verse 1. Then it’s followed by statements of darkness. But not just any darkness, this is thick darkness. Then God’s glory is reiterated at the end of verse 2. The glory of the Lord brackets the darkness like a pair of bookends. Poetically speaking, the glory of the Lord contains and overwhelms the darkness. It’s the darkness that won’t escape from the light. Darkness is demolished by light. Darkness can’t exist in the presence of light. That’s why we’re told to get up and shine.

Isaiah’s words reveal that the nations of the earth will be drawn to God through the reflective beams we cast into the world’s dark places. Something new happens in verses 4-7. When we arise and shine, when we finally lift our eyes from despair, we’ll hardly believe what our eyes see. People will be drawn to God.

In Isaiah’s time, Jerusalem had thought itself abandoned and cast off. But Isaiah sees a time when all the nations of the earth will make the journey to be in a new and restored Jerusalem. It’s a time when the city of peace finally lives up to its name.

On the one hand, the sons and daughters of Israel will come, cared for, protected, and valued. These are the exiles that have been scattered far from Jerusalem. They had remained scattered long after the official return under the Persian kings. The appearance of the light brings an end to the exile. The poet-prophet imagines a world in which the abused and nearly forgotten are drawn back to their proper home among God’s beloved people.

On the other hand, the procession also includes more than the scattered Jewish exiles. It also includes “the wealth of the nations.” Israel was rarely one of the affluent nations in its sphere of influence. Most often Israel, in its disadvantage, stood in awe of its larger, more powerful, and prosperous neighbors. But God reverses this reality. The lowly are lifted up. The once-abandoned city will contain the wealth of the world.

It’s important to remember that Isaiah’s rhetoric has two sides. In part, it’s economic. The people’s misfortunes are reversed. But it’s also theological. The wealth of the nations is brought as an offering of worship. The passage begins in God’s glory in verses 1 and 2, and ends in God’s glory in verse 7. This is all about the glory of God, the light shining in the darkness, rising upon us so that we, too, might see and reflect its rays further, deeper, and allow others to see and come to God.

Like the nations Isaiah mentions, the wealth and gifts we bring to God every Sunday are signs that we submit ourselves to God’s coming kingdom. This is what is happening when the magi bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus, the King of the Jews. When God is worshipped, all of God’s people prosper. When we allow ourselves to reflect God’s glorious light, everyone can find their way and be included within the fold of God’s chosen people. Everyone can bask in the glow of God’s glory.

God’s presence with us creates newness for the entire world. In Isaiah’s oracle, all—Jerusalem, the exiles, the nations—all, receive the gift of life. The purpose of God through his covenant with Abraham has always been the blessing of all nations, all peoples: all.

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of this prophetic utterance. The Gospel of John teaches us that Jesus is our light. The opening verses say this:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being 4 through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.  (Jn. 1:1-5, CEB).

At the Epiphany we celebrate the fact that God has revealed and made manifest the mystery of salvation to those of us who, at one time, were not God’s people. It’s the light that has drawn us in. Now, our job is to let that light shine forth in us.

It means we have to lay aside the things in our lives that prevent God’s light from shining through us. Sometimes the darkness is more comfortable simply because we know it. But God is not content with darkness. That’s why we’re called to repent of our sins and sinful ways. We’re to let God’s light burn away the dark places in our hearts and minds.

Just as the rising of a star in the east drew the magi to seek the Christ child in Bethlehem, so the light of Christ draws the world to God. As Israel was meant to be a light to the nations and reflect the glory of God’s presence back into the world, so now are we. We shine in the dark places of the world by being present with people whose eyes have not yet seen.

In a sense, we are God’s stained-glass window. Each of us is like a single pane, each with a different shape and color. Yet when the light shines through us, we paint a picture and tell a story about God’s love and gift of salvation that the world cannot ignore.

That’s what happens when we let God’s glory shine in our lives. We are to be a light to the world around us, reflecting the light that has dawned in our hearts. Jesus Christ is our light. Arise, and let it shine forth in you.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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