ST. STEPHEN’S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
Striving to speak God’s saving truth in love. Ephesians 4:15
St. Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School | Beaver Dam, WI | 920.885.3309
A sermon on Isaiah 60:1-6 for Epiphany Sunday, January 2/5, 2020.
In June 2018, there was a highly publicized rescue effort of a youth soccer team, who were trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand. One day after practice twelve players and one assistant coach explored this cave. While they were in the cave, floodwaters blocked their exit. For ten days no one knew the status of those thirteen people. Did some die? Did all die? Would they find any survivors? Finally, an international rescue team located all thirteen people alive. Then came the hard part, how would they bring those people to safety? They quickly devised a plan to get them out before the next rainfall would make things more difficult. Two weeks after they became trapped, all thirteen members of the soccer team were pulled to safety.
Just imagine the thoughts of the kids and young adult who were trapped. For ten days they wondered if anybody would find them. After a few days, they wondered if they would survive. Once the rescue team found them, hope was restored. All of a sudden their hearts leapt for joy. They still had to wait four more days, but they believed the rescuers when they said they would be brought out to safety. Joy must have come over them when they were pulled from the dark cave to the light of safety.
Israel had become despondent. They had no hope for a brighter future. They only had themselves to blame for their predicament. They left God, so God has left them. The gods of all the other nations enticed them away from the true God’s promises. In moments of weakness the nation fumbled away their certainty for uncertainty. God repeatedly tried to call them back in repentance, but the warnings fell on deaf ears.
In their darkest moments an announcement brought certainty back from chaos, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD is dawning upon you” (Isaiah 60:1). No longer did they have to remain prostrate on the ground. They could stand up on their feet. They looked and the promised Light came upon them. “Look, darkness covers the earth, and deep darkness covers the peoples, but the LORD will dawn upon you, and his glory will be seen over you” (Isaiah 60:2).
The darkness of rebellion and sin has been done away with. The Lord has come to shine through the darkness. The Lord has appeared to do away with sin, death, and the devil. The Light has come to live a perfect life in the place of sinful mankind. The Light has come to bring life by his death on the cross. Through his resurrection from the dead, all people who follow the Light will shine in the light of eternal glory in heaven. For this reason the faithful of Israel can arise with confidence. The darkness will never overtake them.
It was not just for the Israelites this Light appeared. “Nations will walk to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). This light does not just shine upon the Jews living dispersed throughout the world. It would be too small of a thing for the Savior to just come for one nationality or race. Jesus came to bring peace and forgiveness for all people. Jesus came shining for all people to see.
The wounds of the Savior impart peace and security for all who follow the Light. Through the healing message of the gospel all the people who feel despondent and weighed down by the load of sin can see the Light piercing the darkness of their sin filled soul. Arise, o nations! Let your hearts leap for joy for your Light has come.
What things knock us down to the ground making us feel despondent? What issues in our life bring darkness over our heart? The thick fog of sin hangs as a dark cloud over the certainty we desperately seek. Our self-esteem never finds value or worth. We listen to so many lies and deceptions on social media that our hearts lie restless. We fail to see through the perfection on the screen to the imperfections behind it. The good masks the hurt, pain, and troubles which the person struggles with. We fail to see the bad only to focus on the façade of the good.
Our friends, at least we call them friends, constantly put us down. They lead us deeper into the darkness of the world rather than pointing us to the Light. They leave us all alone at the first sign of trouble.
Our values face questions on a daily basis. Doubts arise as to whether the Bible really is true. Society, friends, philosophies, and the so called educated try to disprove the Bible. What are we to believe? The world belittles our faith. Even our own struggles with hardships and trials make our faith dwindle. We feel the darkness overtaking us.
Arise, dear Christian! Your light has come! The fog turns to a light haze to clear skies for your Light shines upon you. The Savior came for you. He came for the weary and the weak. He came for the doubters and the lowly. He came for the ones struggling with whatever it might be in their life. He came for you.
The glory of the Lord shines over all, over you. The brightness of a new dawn creeps upon us. Our hearts leap for joy for the Light scatters the darkness. It does not matter the sins of the past or of the future. The blood of Jesus has purified us. God has declared us not guilty only through the redeeming work of his Son. Faith imparts all these blessings to us. It does not matter the times we push God away. God stands with arms wide open to welcome us back. His mercy and love will never diminish.
Our hearts leap for joy for the Light has broken through the darkness. Jesus came to save us from our sins. For this our hearts respond with gifts to the great Light.
As the Light brought peace and security to all whom the Spirit calls in faith, the people showed their thankfulness and joy. “Then you will look and be radiant. Your hearts will race with excitement and burst with joy. For great riches from the sea will be delivered to you. The wealth of the nations will come to you. Caravans of camels will cover your land, young camels from Midian and Ephah. All those from Sheba will come. They will carry gold and incense, and they will announce the good news of the praise of the LORD” (Isaiah 60:5-6). The nation that once lay despondent as a result of their sins, now shout with joy. They no longer mope around. They are overjoyed in their response for what the Light has done for them.
The nations come with their songs of praise to God. Peace, joy, and forgiveness have come. Their lips bring forth songs of thanksgiving to their Lord. Their hearts dance with joy at the proclamation of the good news of Jesus. They also come with their wealth. They lay their riches at the feet of the Savior.
Even all these years later, we still have the same reaction to the Light of Christ. We continually come to worship to give God our thanks and praise. We hear each and every week the wonderful news of forgiveness and respond with our praise. Church is not something we do for God. Church shows what God has done for us. Church gives us the opportunity to show God our appreciation and joy for all the things God has done.
We also bring our gifts to God. The account of the visit of the Magi always leaves me breathless. Not only do they come from afar to see this child, but they lay costly gifts at his feet. We are not told how they knew about the promise of the Christ child. We are not told the words they spoke. We simply see the Magi coming to worship the King of kings with their gifts.
It is so easy for us to lose focus of the importance of bringing our gifts to God. We just got done celebrating Christmas. A time when people exchange gifts with family and friends. This past Christmas just about 33% of people expected to spend over $1000 on gifts for family and friends. This does not include all the food, travel, and other expenses that pop up. This often goes on without us even thinking about the money spent, until we see the busted budgets.
Do we bring our gifts to Jesus with the same sense of joy? So often we put our money in other areas rather than in our offerings. We see all the other “needs” of our life, and we think that God can wait. We will spend on ourselves and family and friends, but we fail to bring our gifts to God.
We see the Light who has come into this world. He has done literally everything for us. He paid the ultimate price with his life to free us from sin. We, with hearts of thankfulness, bring our gifts to him. Like the Magi we lay our costly gifts before him. With hearts filled with joy, we cheerfully bring what is rightfully God’s.
God deserves all the gifts that we bring to him. We bring to him the best forgetting the cost and sacrifice. We place the riches into God’s gracious hands as our thankfulness for what he has done. We also know those gifts will be used. The message of Jesus will be spread with our gifts. The Light of the world will shine upon all nations to those who need to hear it.
We embark on a new chapter in our life. No longer do we live under the dark cloud of sin. The Light shines upon us. He has scattered the darkness with his Word and work. We will respond to all he has done with our gifts of thanksgiving to him. Arise, dear friends! Our Light has come! Our Hearts Leap with Joy! Amen.