Sermon for Epiphany Sunday

Text: Isaiah 60:2
On you the light of the Lord will shine; the brightness of his presence will be with you.

'On you the light of the Lord will shine'

Have you ever been surrounded by darkness and longed for light?
Miriam and I had crossed from Italy and Greece during the day on a car ferry and as we approached the Greek coast we knew that the ferry was running extremely late and that we would be landing in the dark in a strange place. There was no moonlight only darkness. We needed to find a place to stay for the night. We drove along the coast road that was dark and winding hoping to see the light of an entrance to a camping ground.

As we rounded each corner we looked hard straining our eyes for some kind of sign but there was only the darkness. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity we saw a light ahead – it lit up a sign which said ‘Camping Kalami Beach’ with an arrow pointing to the right. What relief we felt when we saw that light. That one light in the pitch dark was such a blessing.

But that moment of relief was replaced with another fear. It was late so would the gates be shut for the night? We turned off the road and down another dark road and then we saw the gates ahead bathed in welcoming light. The gates were open and the reception office fully lit up. After we parked in the flood lit carpark we looked at each other and simultaneously smiled and sighed with relief. We had made it. We were so glad to be out of the darkness of the night and the darkness of anxiety and in the light.

Today’s reading from Matthew tells how the wisemen had seen a bright star in the sky and travelled west believing that this was a sign that a new king for the Jews had been born. We aren’t told that the wisemen actually followed the star as they crossed hills and plains and desert on their way to see this newborn king. They knew where to go and the logical place to find this new King of the Jews was at the palace of King Herod. They asked, "Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it came up in the east, and we have come to worship him." We know Herod wasn’t too pleased to hear this news from these strangers but he was happy to tell them what the Scriptures said about the birthplace of this new king. He wanted the wisemen to tell him exactly where this new king was so that he could eliminate any opposition to his own power and ruthlessly do away with this child just he has done to his own sons and wife.

The wisemen headed toward Bethlehem and we are told this interesting piece of information. "And so they left (Jerusalem), and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was." It was most likely night time and there were no street lights on the road to Bethlehem. Their camels had no bright driving lights to brighten the road ahead. The road was dark and they must have wondered how they would find the right house where this baby king and his parents were staying? When they saw the light from the same star they had seen earlier they were overjoyed. When it started leading them along the road and finally stopping over the place where Jesus was, they were filled with joy. The bright heavenly light cut through the darkness and they were able to find their way. Again and again the scriptures make a connection between the Messiah and light.

In Isaiah we read, "On you the light of the Lord will shine; the brightness of his presence will be with you. You will see this and be filled with joy; you will tremble with excitement".
Matthew records how an extraordinarily bright light in the night sky somewhere in the east hailed the birth of the Son of God, the Light of the world.
Luke records Simeon saying that Jesus will be the light who will reveal God to the people of all nations.
Jesus says this about himself, "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). Just as turning on a light in a dark room chases away all signs of darkness, Jesus is the light who has come into our world darkened by sin, evil, violence, hatred, cruelty and lovelessness of every kind. Jesus was born into our world to bring hope, forgiveness and peace, to dispel from our lives all hopelessness and fear. In John 1 we read,
"The Word (meaning Jesus) was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. … This was the real light—the light that comes into the world and shines on all people.

The Light of Christ shines into the darkness of our lives. There is darkness in each of our lives and it can take a different shape in each of our lives. Only you can say what the darkness is in your life.

The darkness may be sin that keeps nagging you, you can’t give it up and when you try you fail and you wonder if there is ever going to be an end to this darkness.
The darkness may be a breakdown in the relationship between you and another person. Words have been said, feelings have run out of control and you wonder if that relationship will ever see the light of day again.
The darkness in your life may be the kind that you aren’t even aware of. It’s possible to become so used to the darkness that you don’t even recognise that you are in the dark. It’s like reading a book in a room that is slowly becoming darker as the evening closes in. You’re not aware of the darkness because you are engrossed in the story and it’s only when someone turns on a light that you suddenly realise how dark it had become.

That’s the way it is with sin in our lives. Satan loves to fool us into thinking that everything is ok when in reality darkness is closing in on us. He is known as the Prince of Darkness. He doesn’t want anyone to know Jesus, the Light of the world. He wants to deceive us all into believing that darkness is better than the light, that darkness is more powerful than the light. He doesn’t want the light of Jesus to show us how deep the darkness is in our lives.

Darkness is a lack of light – this may be a lack of love, generosity, a forgiving spirit;
a lack of tolerance, a willingness to co-operate or to give of your time to others;
darkness is that something inside of us that is selfish, wants to think the worst about people and their situations, tells us that people deserve what life throws at them and receive no understanding, sympathy or compassion from us.

Herod was enveloped in the darkness of selfishness and greed and self-importance. He couldn’t see Jesus as the wisemen did. In fact, because he was so filled with darkness he feared the light. He preferred the darkness in his heart because he knew that was the only way he could get his own way and so led him to slaughter the children of Bethlehem. For him, darkness was the only way. He wanted no part in this bright star in the night sky that stopped over where the Light of the world rested in his mother’s arms.

Matthew’s story of the wise men visiting the Christ-child tells us that Jesus wasn’t born into a world where everything is sweet and nice; he was born into world of darkness, violence and wicked people. He is the light that the Old Testament talks about – the light that has come to chase away the darkness.

We know that Jesus tackled the darkness head on. In fact, what happened at the time of his birth was just a prelude to the evil that he would come up against during his life. Some of our Christmas carols reflect just this. In the carol: "We Three Kings of Orient Are" the last verse injects a note of gloom: "Myrrh is mine its bitter perfume, breathes a life of gathering gloom: sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb." It is significant that the only other time myrrh is mentioned is when Nicodemus prepares Jesus’ body for burial. This myrrh at Jesus’ birth foreshadows his bitter struggle with evil, death and Satan that led to his own death and burial and final victory on Easter morning.

Jesus brings hope and forgiveness into our world. In his light, we find the strength to carry on amid our moral and spiritual crises.
He is the light that encourages us when darkness overwhelms 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
Jesus is the real light, the genuine light who changes things. 
He is forgiveness where there is a wall of division. 
He is hope in the face of terminal illness and death. 
He is encouragement and strength when things get really tough. 
He is the love expressed in comforting words and deeds. 
He is what we need to lighten our 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 life’s journey when we have difficult choices to make or 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 with hope when we take our last breath. He is the light of life, eternal life.

He is the light that fills our life and so we let our light shine before others, 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 let the light of Christ shine through us so that the darkness of evil might be dispelled.

There is only one cure for darkness – and that is light. There is only one cure for the darkness of sin and unhappiness and that is the Light – Jesus. That’s why Jesus was born into a violent world – to be light for you and me. Isaiah says this,
On you the light of the Lord will shine;
the brightness of his presence will be with you."

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd January 2011

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