Sermon for Epiphany

Text: Isaiah 60:1-3

Arise, Jerusalem, and shine like the sun;
The glory of the Lord is shining on you!
Other nations will be covered by darkness,
But on you the light of the Lord will shine;
The brightness of his presence will be with you.
Nations will be drawn to your light,
And kings to the dawning of your new day.


The Light in our Darkness

Sometimes darkness is preferred over and above the bright light of day. Having a candle light dinner in a darkened room has a special appeal and romance.
Going to see a movie at the theatre only works if the theatre is dark.
Some people canít sleep unless curtains block out all light and their bedroom is completely dark.

Sometimes the phrase "in the dark" might be used to indicate that we are confused, donít understand, unclear, bamboozled. An example.

Someone tells a story. And at the end of the story everyone burst into uncontrolled laughter Ė everyone, that is, except you. For the life of you, you canít see what was so funny. You are confused. Why does everyone think the story to be so humorous? You are "in the dark" so to say, and it isnít until someone explains (or throws some light on) the punch line that you finally get it.

In the Bible and in literature generally darkness is associated with things that are evil and with death. Under the cover of darkness many crimes are committed. We think of many acts of cruelty and violence as coming from our dark side. Death is described as something dark and sinister.
It is always the bad guys in movies who wear black to symbolise their dark deeds (Darth Vadar in Star Wars or The dark land of Mordor in
Lord of the Rings)

On a dark night, some years ago, the lights went out in a major American city. There was a huge power failure. The whole city was shrouded in darkness. It's not as if there hadnít been blackouts before. But this one affected a wider area and it lasted longer. In fact, as I recall, it actually lasted a few days.

By the second night, still without power and lights, the people started looting. Smashing shop windows, walking away with TV sets and toasters and stereo systems. Whatever they could lay their hands on.

In the dark businesses were practically destroyed, not by hardened criminals, but by neighbours, by ordinary people who lived up the road, by normally law abiding people. In the dark, greed took over.

Darkness can also refer to people whose circumstances in life are any thing but bright, positive and optimistic. This kind of darkness differs from one person to the next.
The darkness may be poverty, hunger and homelessness.
It may be the hopelessness of a mother as she watches her childís life slowly fading away because of a lack basic food, clean water and health care.

To a child in a war torn country, the darkness is armed men plundering, killing, raping. They are afraid that they will be abused, forced to join the ranks of the child soldiers, or be killed.

To those who have been affected by the tsunami this past week, darkness is having loved ones and everything you own swept away by a torrent of water. The darkness is not knowing what has happened to a family member Ė whether he/she is alive or dead.

For another person darkness is struggling with an illness, the aches and pains of old age, losing the struggle with failing abilities and entering a nursing home. For some darkness is the inevitable day when they lose a loved one through death.

Whatever is your temptation Ė that is your darkness. Hatred. Greed. Not caring how your actions affect others. Alcohol abuse. Selfishness. All the things that Satan, the prince of darkness, brings into our lives.

Make no mistake there is darkness inside us. It is the darkness of sin.
How does darkness manifest itself in your life?
What outward words and actions you know are not what God wants from his people, yet they keep on cropping up.
In fact, sometimes the darkness can become so thick that we have difficult seeing the mess that sin has made of our lives. There are so many people in our community who live in darkness and donít even realise it.

There is an old story about a desert nomad who woke up in the middle of the night feeling very hungry. He lit a candle and began eating dates from a bowl beside his bed. He took a bite from one and saw a worm in it; so he threw it out of the tent. He bit into the second date, found another worm, and threw it away also. Reasoning that he wouldn't have any dates left to eat if he continued, he blew out the candle and quickly ate the rest of the dates.

Some times people prefer the darkness, because in the light they see too much. They continue in their old ways, because they donít like having a light shine on them that will show that their relationship with God is in a terrible state and they are in serious trouble. [Johnís gospel says, "This is how the judgment works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil. (John 3:19).]

The Old Testament text today from Isaiah reminds us that a new light has come from the Lord. It is shining on all people. This new light chases away all shadows and darkness.
The closer this light comes to them, the more they will see the darkness in their lives and the more they will feel its warmth and comfort.
The closer this light comes to them, the more others will be able to see the light that is shining through them.
Isaiah is talking about people from all nations being drawn from the darkness to the light. The prophet says,
"Your days of grief will come to an end. I, the Lord, will be your eternal light" (Is 60:19).

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness" (John 8:12). The prophecies of the Old Testament have been fulfilled. What an impact Christ the light has had on the darkness in our lives and in the world!

Jesus is the Light. This light exposes those dark private corners of our lives that we prefer to keep hidden. Everything is not as neat and tidy as we thought. There is a mess that needs to be cleaned up, and even though we have tried to hide the mess in the darkest and most private corner of our lives, the light of Jesus has shown us that there is dirt piled up there that needs cleaning out.
Our temptations and secret sins,
those faults that we would prefer not to admit to,
the poor way we have treated the people we love,
the selfish attitude that we have nurtured,
the times we have preferred to look the other way than offer a helping hand.

The Light, Jesus, has come into the world,
not to bring condemnation, but to bring salvation,
not to rub our noses in the dirt of those dark corners,
but to sweep them out, to bring healing and reconciliation.
This light is freely yours.
Bask in the beauty and warmth of the sun - the Son of God."

Jesus is the real light, the genuine light who changes things.
He is forgiveness.
He is hope.
He is encouragement.
He is a word of love.
He is strength.
He is what you need to lighten your personal darkness.
He is light to every person who has need of super-human strength to see through the darkness of trouble and sickness.
He is the light who guides us along lifeís journey when we have more questions than we have answers.
He is the light that dispels the darkness of guilt with his forgiveness and the darkness of fear when we take our last breath. He is the light of life, eternal life.

In whatever way the darkness shows itself in our lives, Christ has come to be a light for us.
Wherever there is darkness in our family, in our friendships, in our community, Christ has come to shed light on all those areas of our lives to restore peace and harmony and joy.
Wherever there is darkness in our nation or in the world at large, Christ has commanded us to let our light shine before men, to use whatever means we have at our disposal to relieve the suffering of others and drive out the darkness that shrouds the lives of so many. We are to let the light of Christ shine through us so that the darkness of despair and hopelessness might be dispelled.

It is clear that a darkness has come across many places in our region of the world because of the tsunami. We were powerless to stop the earthquake and the subsequent tidal wave that caused so much destruction. Darkness has filled the lives of so many, but it is now our job as those who have the light of Christ in our lives to let that light shine into the darkness to give hope, encouragement, the means to avoid sickness and more deaths. Jesus says to us, "You are light for the whole world. Ö No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people (Matt 5:14-16).

During a severe outbreak of influenza that had claimed the lives of many people, all public gathering places in one town were ordered closed in order to stem the spread of the disease. This included churches. Yet more than ever, it was then that people needed hope and consolation.

Burdened by his inability to reach out to people in their time of need, one resourceful pastor thought of his churchís magnificent stained glass windows. Those windows faced a main street and many people passed by the church everyday.

The pastor had numerous floodlights placed inside the church; the light shining through the glass to the outside world gave passers-by the full effect of the windowsí story.

There for all to see were the timeless portrayals of Jesus:

Jesus the good shepherd carrying a lamb;
Jesus the searching Saviour rescuing the lone lost sheep while the ninety-nine rested safely in the fold;
Jesus praying in Gethsemane;
Jesus on the cross;
Jesus risen from the dead.
These windows were silent sermons of light and stained glass.

People who passed by the church would stop reverently, silently. They found themselves filled with new determination and encouragement. In the darkness that filled their lives the light streaming from those windows the words of Isaiah took on new meaning, "Your days of grief will come to an end. I, the Lord, will be your eternal light, more lasting than the sun and moon. (Isaiah 60:20).

When the wisemen bowed before Jesus they realised that the brilliance of the star they had followed was nothing compared to the light that God has sent at Christmas. Jesus is the one who will meet you in your deepest darkness, whatever that darkness is for you. His love never changes.
In his light, we find the strength to carry on.
In his light, the darkness around us and in the lives of others is replaced with hope, love, and forgiveness.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd January, 2005

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