The Epiphany of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6
In Christ Jesus, who was manifested to the wise men in Bethlehem, and who is manifested to us here through the means of grace, dear fellow redeemed:
On the Festival of Epiphany, we celebrate the coming of the wise men to worship Jesus. As far as we know, these Gentiles were the first non-Jews to see Him. This is why Epiphany is sometimes called the “Gentile Christmas.” Epiphany shows that the Christ came not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles too, because it was the LORD who showed the wise men the star of the Christ-Child. It was He who motivated them to set out on the long journey to Judea.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sign like that, something to guide our way through life? As we considered a tough decision, God could make one option appear brighter than the others. He could give us a glimpse of our future, so we would know what to focus on and prepare for. He could keep us from heading off in the wrong direction.
Though some look for guidance like this in the stars, through mediums and fortune-tellers, or through their own superstitions and inner feelings, the LORD does not promise to enlighten us in these ways. Where He does promise enlightenment is through His holy Word. The star may have gotten the wise men going, but they did not find “the King of the Jews” until they heard the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah pointing them to Bethlehem (Mat. 2:6).
All the major events of Jesus’ life were predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures long before they took place. The visit of the wise men was no exception. We hear this prophecy about them in today’s text from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied that nations would come to the light of the LORD. When they came, they would bring abundance and wealth. Their camels would cover the hills. They would bring gold and frankincense and proclaim the praises of the LORD. The wise men were the first in a wave of Gentiles whom the LORD continues to draw to His light today.
He must draw people to His light because they are lost in the darkness of unbelief, sin, and death by nature. If you have been reading the first chapters of Genesis this past week, you reviewed how this darkness came into the world. Adam and Eve ignored the command of God and rebelled against Him. Then their oldest son Cain killed his brother Abel, and the human race descended into greater and greater wickedness. Things became so bleak that God decided to destroy the world in a flood. Everything on earth perished except for Noah, his sons, their wives, and all the animals God had sent into the Ark.
But even after the flood, the world was not without sin. Sin increased again, and we are no better today than any who have gone before us. What Isaiah wrote is true: “darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” The darkness of sin and death is a “thick darkness.” It covers us and surrounds us like a thick cloud, an impenetrable fog that we cannot see through.
This is not how the world sees its situation. Especially at this time of year, people express great optimism about the future. “It’s a new year, a year to right every wrong, a year to achieve unparalleled success!” But many thought that way about 2019 and all the years before that. What happened to the promise of those years? Why are we always so eager to leave the last year behind by the time the new one rolls around?
It is because of the darkness that Isaiah describes. The people of the world think they can see just fine. They think they have all the solutions to the problems that afflict us. But there is no way forward without the light. Without the light, 2020 will be just as dark as 2019 and all the years before that.
The light that we need, the light that Isaiah prophesies about, is the light of Jesus. Isaiah spoke as if this light was already shining forth in his day, “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” he says. The Christ had not yet been born, but the promise of His coming filled the people’s hearts with hope. If God’s arrival in the flesh was like the sun shining brightly, the Gospel promises found in the Old and New Testaments are like the rays stretching out from the sun (U. V. Koren’s Works, Vol. 1, p. 81).
These rays of light still shine forth in the darkness and have reached our own hearts. These rays come through God’s holy Word. God’s Word shows us the light of Jesus. It draws us out of darkness “into his marvelous light” (1Pe. 2:9). His Word calls us to “Arise!”—“Get up!”—“Look to the light!” We do this by acknowledging our sin and guilt. We repent of the wrong we have done and trust in the forgiveness Jesus won for us. We don’t want to stay in the darkness. We don’t want to lose the light. This, more than anything else, should top our list of New Year’s resolutions.
We want to stay connected to the light of Jesus, because only in this light is there a clear way forward. Only in this light is there hope. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Joh. 8:12). His light brings life. Without His light there is no life. Think of a life here with no light at all. These overcast wintry days are bad enough, but the sun still gives light, and when darkness comes we can flip on a switch and fill our homes with light. But a life with no light at all—no natural or artificial light—would be absolutely terrifying. We would not know where we are or where we might go.
By faith in Jesus, we know exactly where we are headed. We are on our way to heaven, to His kingdom of everlasting light. We are going there because He came to rescue us from the darkness. His coming was like the sun rising above a world that had never seen light. Imagine how bright that would be to eyes used to the darkness. Some might shy away from the light and run further into the shadows. But others would want to find the source of that light. This is what Isaiah describes: “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.”
The coming of the Christ brought people from near and far, including those wise men from the east. His light continues to draw people to Him. And how do they see that light? Through the Word. And how do they hear that Word? Through God’s people. If Jesus is like the sun, His followers are like the moon reflecting the sun’s light.
We want others to see this light in what we do and say. We “shine” as believers when we share the Gospel message of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus. We “shine” when we carry out our tasks and responsibilities diligently and honestly with love for our neighbor. A life lived for worldly glory, for selfish purposes, is a wasted life. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world…. [L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:14,16).
We don’t need to pursue worldly glory, because God gives us a glory that will never pass away. He gives us the glory of being spotless in His sight by faith in Jesus. He gives us the glory of being heirs of His eternal kingdom. He gives us the glory of being seated with Jesus our King in heaven (Eph. 2:6).
What God does for us is far greater than what we can do for Him or for the world. I’m sure the wise men agreed. They laid before Jesus their treasures of “gold and frankincense and myrrh,” but these were trifles compared with the gift of laying eyes on their Savior. This is why the wise men “fell down and worshiped him” (Mat. 2:11). We also present our gifts to God of a life of devotion, prayer, and thanksgiving. But what we receive from Him is far greater than what we give to Him.
Jesus blesses us every time we hear His Word of grace and partake of the Sacraments with faith in His promises. This is where His light comes to us today and how His glory rises upon us here. The wise men saw more than a baby; they saw the Lord of heaven and earth. We also see more than water, bread, wine, and words in the Divine Service. We see Jesus’ bright presence here among us.
We see Him by faith in these humble, visible elements of Word and Sacrament because He has promised to be here. He is here to shine His bright light of forgiveness into hearts and minds troubled by guilt and shame. He is here to uncover the anger and hatred we feel toward another and to relieve us of these burdens. He is here to lighten our spirits with His shining grace and to give us healing and hope in all our difficulties and trials.
“Arise, shine,” says Isaiah, “for your light has come!” You can “arise” and “shine” with confidence each day, knowing that your Savior is here. He came out of love for you. His presence with you means you will have His blessings in the new year just as He has given them to you in the past.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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