Dear friends in Christ! Christmas is now officially over. To be sure, for some it was over on the evening of the 25th when they hauled the tree to the curb; others kept Christmas going until New Years’. Then there were people who celebrated the full 12 days until this past Wednesday. But even they are now finished.
Each year the beginning of the Christmas shopping season seemingly begins earlier; then there is that big lead up to Christmas Day; and then it all seemingly begins to peter out until here we are, 9 days into the New Year. But, if that’s all that Christmas is; if that’s all the significance it has; then, yes, it is quite empty and shallow. Sadly, that’s how it is for many.
So has everything now returned back to normal so that now we can go on “auto-pilot” for a while? After all, even the shepherds, after they saw, worshipped and proclaimed the Baby Jesus went back to their flocks; even the wise men returned home.
For those of us who truly celebrated Christmas, who recognized that the one born of a virgin in Bethlehem, is truly the Son of God and the Savior of the world, Christmas just cannot wind down or peter out. Instead, just as Christians have done for well over a millennium, we now enter the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is really a continuation of Christmas as in the Epiphany season we see exactly who it was Who was born on Christmas. Epiphany refers to something that is hidden or invisible revealing itself. At Christmas, the true God, Who is spirit, took on human flesh and blood; God appeared in the flesh here and now. In Jesus, the heavenly world has broken into the earthly. That’s Epiphany! In the Epiphany season, by hearing once again Jesus’ teaching and miracles and culminating with His transfiguration, we see that that Baby born to the virgin in Bethlehem is really the true God. We see the glory of God shining in the human life of Jesus.
Can we ever really be the same after truly celebrating and pondering Christmas? Does life, our Christian life, return to normal, return to how it was before we went this past Christmas once again to that stable in Bethlehem? How can it? Our outward life and activities will “return to normal” but certainly not our faith. That’s the call of Epiphany that we hear once again in our text: Arise, shine; for your Light has come.
1. Our text is a prophecy from the OT prophet Isaiah. Through him the Lord speaks comfort to His OT Church; and in our text, the Lord, through the prophet, calls to His Church, also His NT Church: Arise, shine.
This is a word of great comfort because the command is to arise. When someone is told to arise, that generally means what? –that they are down. For example, when we hear “rise and shine,” that means that we were lying down in bed. What does it mean for the OT Church, the faithful in the OT times to whom Isaiah was preaching? Isaiah had proclaimed God’s word of Law to the OT people, that God would punish them for their sin and impenitence, that God would expel them from the land into captivity in Babylon. So the picture here was that the people would be down and out; they would be laid out on the ground, in misery and suffering. Precisely then, the Lord would say to them Arise. So yes, there would be a time of suffering, but they would not be undone; yes, they would be punished for their sin, but it would serve for their spiritual good. It meant that God had not forgotten His promises to them to send a Savior—and, in fact, precisely when it looked as if all hope was gone, that the promises had been forgotten, then God would tell His people, His OT Church, the OT faithful: Arise.
And why would/ could God tell them Arise? Answer: For your Light has come! And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. To His OT Church, God gave them comfort that in the midst of lowliness, even though it looked like all was lost, He would keep His promise of a Savior. They had the promise and the Lord assured that He would keep His promise to them. So sure was the Lord’s promise that He spoke as if it were already done! The Light has come; the glory has risen.
But because of that first Christmas, it is now actual historical fact—Jesus, the Light of the world, Jesus, the Glory of the Lord, has come. How can our hearts and lives be the same, return to how they were before we once again heard and pondered the Christmas Gospel: For there is born for you this day…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord? In this season of Epiphany, let us see that the One born that first Christmas is truly God, revealing Himself, appearing here and now in this world in the flesh.
B. God speaks our text not just to the OT Church but also to us today, His NT Church: Arise…for your Light has come! And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Although we live in the time after Jesus has come and carried out His work of paying for our sins and reconciling us to the Father; although we live in the time that the Lord has risen, is shining, upon us, we often find ourselves or think ourselves to be down and out, that the Lord has forgotten us. We see the Church not just being attacked from the outside by scoffers and unbelievers, like we would expect, but also from within by so-called theologians who claim to be Christian and yet tear down the doctrines the Scriptures so clearly teach. We see the Church seemingly in decline in our nation. Personally, we see/ feel ourselves experiencing so much trial in our lives, going through so many spiritual battles, having so many doubts and wrestling spiritually in our hearts, that it’s easy to think that God is out of the picture and that the devil is having his way with us. To us, God says through Isaiah in our text: Arise…For your Light has come! And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. In other words, remember Christmas! Our Savior has come. He is true man, born of the virgin, and also true God—sit back and watch that unfold in the Epiphany season. Remember the reason for His coming was to pay for our sins, reconcile us to God and open heaven to us; to make us God’s dear children and heirs of heaven.
C. Today as we hear the prophet tell the Church, and us personally: Arise! Let us recognize the greatness of Christmas and the greatness of the treasure of the Gospel. By telling us to arise, the Lord is telling us to wake up and look at everything with the eyes of faith. It’s easy, because of our sinful nature, to be lulled into thinking little of the word, water, bread and wine with which Christ comes to us and gives us Himself and gives us the blessings and benefits He won for us by His holy life and innocent suffering and death. But precisely in these things Christ comes to us and offers us everything. When we recognize with the eyes of faith that with the bread and wine, Jesus is giving us His body and blood, giving us the forgiveness of sin—that’s an Epiphany! When in faith we recognize that in baptism we died and were buried and raised with Christ, clothed with Him and His holiness, ushered into the family of God—that’s an Epiphany! When by Spirit-worked faith we recognize that in His Word Jesus is coming to us to dwell in our hearts, to give us forgiveness and every other heavenly gift—that’s an Epiphany! Let each of us hear the prophet and arise—not looking at our outward situation or circumstance, not looking at how we feel and our emotions. Instead, let us arise, looking at and trusting in the word and promise of God. Let us remember Christmas and arise and look at our gracious, faithful God, that He arises over [us] and His glory is seen upon [us].
2. Not only do we Christians, the NT Church, hear the command arise, but the Lord gives us the strength to fulfill His command—for your Light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you—because in and of ourselves we can’t; we have no light, glory of our own because we are sinners. But at Christmas, the holy God entered, broke into, this broken world of sin. Epiphany teaches us that the Baby that was born was, in fact, also the one true, eternal God. He now comes to us personally in the Word and Sacraments so that in Him we can arise and shine.
As we “arise” in Spirit-worked faith, recognizing that our Savior was born that first Christmas, that He who was born is the true God, we also shine. That’s Epiphany’s second command. “Arising and shining” describe our Christian life of faith and good works. We “shine” as we are full of the Spirit-worked faith. Through faith, we are in Christ and He is in us. Faith is constantly receiving Jesus and His righteousness. We “shine” because all our sins are forgiven us and before God we have nothing but the holiness of Jesus.
Our “shining” is because the Lord arises over you and His glory is seen upon you. Since through faith, we are in Christ and He is in us, His light and His glory radiates through us. The comparison is with the sun and moon: the moon has no light of its own, it reflects the sun’s light; on our own we have no glory and righteousness but we reflect that of Christ. We radiate the light we have received. What a glorious description of the Church—we become a light to this sinful world, a light which points others to Christ as Christ shines forth through us.
What a tremendous need the world has for the light of Christ that shines through us! That’s the other emphasis of Epiphany—Christ making Himself known to the sinful world through us, His Church. All people need to hear, have announced to them, who the true God is, need the Good News about Jesus. Our text tells us why: the darkness covers the earth, and deep darkness the people. All people, as they come into the world, lack the true and right knowledge of God; they do not recognize God and His will. All of us were once that way–until God came to us and revealed Himself to us in His Word and Sacraments. Now since He has revealed Himself to us, worked faith in our hearts to know and recognize Him as the only true God and our Savior, the glory of the Lord shines on us and through us.
And that’s how He brings others to know Him—through His Church, through His shining through us, through the Word that we share with others about Him. When we tell others the good news about Jesus, when Jesus shines through our words and deeds—that becomes Epiphany to those who don’t know Him; they become enlightened through the word of the Gospel that we share.
In our text as God speaks to the OT Church: The Gentiles shall walk in your light and kings in the brightness of your shining. “Lift up your eyes all around and see: They all have been gathered together, they come to you Your sons shall come from afar and your daughters shall be nursed at your side. He tells them that non-Jews, Gentiles, will come to know Him, to the true faith, to the Church. They will be born by the power of the word and nourished by the study of the Word. What a comfort! Far from the OT Church dying out, as it seemed at Isaiah’s time and in the days when the Messiah would come, that Church would grow to include non-Jews. The wise men who came to worship the Baby Jesus, were the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise and we follow them. What a glorious privilege we have—we, to whom the Lord has revealed Himself: The Lord uses us so that others may have an Epiphany—that Baby born in Bethlehem is the Son of God and my Savior.
So, yes, once we have rightly celebrated Christmas, there is no “going back to normal” after Christmas. In Epiphany, we will continue to see that Jesus is the true God who came to be our Savior. In that light, how can our lives now be the same? Arise and shine for your light has come. INJ Amen