This was my first sermon at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in New Florence PA.
RISE AND SHINE
ISAIAH 60: 1–6 1–10–21
A. For years I woke up early with no problem. It’s a little more difficult since retirement. And technology is not always my friend. Apparently, last night I set my calculator for six dollars and thirty cents. It is especially difficult to get up when it is still dark out. When I was a teenager, my dad took pleasure in waking me up early and saying, “Rise and Shine!” in a cheerful voice. I would respond, “I will rise, but don’t look for any shine.”
B. Isaiah is an interesting book. It is usually divided into three sections. Part one was written before the exile. Part two was written near the end of the exile. And part three was written after the exile. The text today is from part three.
C. The darkness God’s people were suffering was not just a gloomy morning. Exile was about the worst thing that could happen to a people. They were taken from their homes and carted off in slavery to a foreign land. The Temple had been destroyed. So even their faith was sorely tested. They were mourning the darkness of the present. But they were also beginning to doubt that the light would ever shine again. You know what dad jokes are. So corny that only dad thinks they are funny. My grandson asked me what grand pap jokes were, I said, “I sat up all night wondering where the sun had gone. And then it dawned on me.” He said, “So grand pap jokes are dad jokes on steroids.
D. Isaiah tells us that there is darkness and then there is DEEP darkness. Darkness is the circumstances. Deep darkness is our response to that darkness of our circumstances. We are living in gloomy days because of Covid. The question is, will we continue to believe that the light will come again.
II. EPIPHANY LIGHT
A. Our answer, of course, is YES! We are in the season of Epiphany. It means the revealing. God’s light has shown the world the meaning of the birth of Jesus. The darkness had been around for a long time. But now the light was coming. That might have been hard for those returning exiles to believe. After they returned from exile, Jerusalem was in ruins. There was no functional government or religion. they fell under the control of the Greeks and then the Romans. Darkness after darkness. But Isaiah is predicting that a great light that is beyond governments and armies and cities and bank accounts will shine on God’s people. The glory of God will be revealed.
B. And Matthew picks up on this prediction in his gospel. Wise men come to visit the baby Jesus who is the promised light. They bring gold and frankincense just as Isaiah had said. They also bring myrrh, a burial spice to remind us of why he came; that part of the story we don’t like to talk about around the Christmas tree. We don’t know much about these wisemen. We don’t even know if there were three of them. We deduce three because of the three gifts. There must be three now because we have three wisemen costumes for the pageants. Someone once said if three wise women had visited, they would have cleaned up the place and did some laundry. They would have brought casseroles and diapers and onesies for the baby. The point of the story is that this light was to shine not just for Israel in the first century, but for the whole world and for all time.
C. The Bible often uses darkness and light as images. In Genesis, the first thing that God creates out of the chaos is light. In the first part of Isaiah he says, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” John tells us that Jesus is the light of the world that has shined in the darkness and that the darkness has never overcome that light. And we know about the contrast between the darkness of Good Friday and the brilliant light of Easter morning. God continues to reveal the light in every dark place in our lives. Whether it is exile or violence or oppression or poverty or grief or Covid, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome the light of God’s love and grace. Maybe we can never fully appreciate the light until we have been through a time of deep darkness.
III. IMPERATIVE VERBS
A. My late and revered New Testament professor, Bob Kelly said, “We should ask two questions of every passage of Scripture. What does it ask us to believe? And What does it ask us to do?” Isaiah asks us to believe that the light is eternal and that it is stronger than any darkness. But what does it ask us to do? I always look for the imperative verbs. And there are arise, shine, lift up your eyes and look. Isaiah is telling us to pay attention. The light is not just in some far off someday. It is here, if we will only open our spiritual eyes to see the light of God’s salvation.
B. Too many people, even some church people, become spiritually blind. We take on the characteristics of A.A. Milne’s donkey Eeyore, eternally sad, pessimistic and hopeless. We lock in the gloom and lose sight of the light of God’s promise. That’s is when we experience the deep darkness that Isaiah warns us about. Elizabeth Barret Browning’s poem, Aroura Leigh has this wonderful verse about God’s’ people paying attention. “Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes. The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
C. The imperative is also an invitation. Open your eyes and see the light. Arise and shine. We are to be like the moon. The only light that comes from the moon is a reflection of the sun. The only light in us is a reflection of the sone, SON. We are invited to reflect God’s glory so that others see the light that dispels the darkness. Our Epiphany occurs when we move from Absence to Holy Presence; from Despair to Hope; from Dismay to Well-being.
IV. NEW SUNDAY FACES: YOU
A. So, does this passage in Isaiah apply to Trinity Church? I think it does. I think it can be Epiphany time here. Now be rest assured, I am not any kind of Savior. When I was a kid, my dad did a lot of his own work on his car and the house. My main job in those days was to hold the flashlight. Shine the light so he can do the work. In a way, that is still my job. The only light I bring to the job now is reflected light from the source of light, God’s glory. You are called to be the light too. But that is also a reflected light from the SON. Together, we will hold the light so that HE can do the work.
B. Isaiah says that when the light shines, God’s people will be rich again. He says a multitude of camels will bring the riches to God’s people. I don’t know how many a multitude is. If there were 20 that would be a pack of CAMELS. But this promise is not about financial security. We will be rich, not in dollars but in faithfulness to the source of our light.
C. Is this about you? You bet it is. In just these 6 short verses, Isaiah uses the word YOU, 14 times! This is about you, It’s about us. I would not be here if I did not believe that the light of God’s glory does not already shine here and that that light is going to get brighter in the days ahead. I preached at a church not long ago. The people all looked like they were in a dark place where they had given up on the light. They looked hopeless, unhappy. It was a room full of Eeyores. They had on what one of my cynical friends called their” Sunday faces”. Gloom and doom. But that is not our identity. We are people of the light. For us, it is about time for a new Sunday face; one that you can wear all week. It is a face of hope and joy and excitement over what is yet to come and the light of Christ. Arise and shine for your light is already shining and I believe that it is going to get very bright in here.