Epiphany OT Sermon 2013
Jan 6, 2013
Rev. Ed Maanum
Outline help from Rev. Robert L. Rosin (Selection from Concordia Pulpit Resources) p 164-166
Light is important, be it the physical light that came into existence by the very Word of God. You know what happened in Genesis 1; God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” There is also the spiritual light of faith. We cannot live without it. Given the option we’d all rather be enlightened individuals rather than living in the dark ages, and I don’t mean the 90′s before Google.
Speaking of being enlightened, during the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries) there was a German philosopher named Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. He judged the era of the Enlightenment as “the best of all possible worlds.” Voltaire, the French wit, eventually agreed that the Age of Reason was the greatest epoch that the world had known.
Things weren’t finished of course. There were still mysteries calling out, just waiting to be explained by someone. But the process of enlightenment was underway. Life was getting clearer and clearer in this Age of Reason, in this Enlightenment.
Superstitions were being shot down left and right on a nearly daily basis. The lifeless corpses of the beliefs of times gone past were being dragged through the streets for all to see. They were left to rot in the ditches of human thought and reason. The two things that would always win out in that Age of Reason, in the Enlightenment were thought and reason.
Despite the human thought that was happening, the Age of Reason gave way to revolution and bloodshed instead of an Eden-like utopic peace. That’s one thing that the Enlightened truly fear… bloodshed, especially their own. For they replaced faith with reason, the illogical death of God with a logical conclusion that if God does exist, then He doesn’t care. So the Enlightened feared death, but viewed it as necessary… as long as it wasn’t their own.
But those who died their big death in their baptisms, those who were drowned in the blood of Christ fear not physical death or bloodshed. What is the worst that the world can do to me? “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20).
Many in the Age of Reason had a more realistic anthropology. But when darkness closed in around them… when the light faded… people refused to see the Light that is Christ. Instead, they tried to use substituted illumination that always colors things a little bit differently than if one was outside in the glowing rays of the Sun of Righteousness.
This belief is all too human since the fall. The sunrise, sunset and day and night between them show us that nothing is new under the sun. It just gets renamed and the packaging gets redesigned to fit the day’s tastes. No matter how much we work while there is still light, the night always follows.
Yet we don’t like the night. So we try to turn the night into day. Cities are ablaze with lights that never seem to sleep. Intellectually and spiritually we are like Dylan Thomas, we “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” And we “do not go gentle into that good night.”
We’re left wondering; where do we find the light for life? Truth appears not as some blazing sun for all to see, but as a twinkling star in the middle of a cold dark winter’s night. The faint glimmer of light in a sky that is as dark as it is deep. At this moment three skies catch our attention.
Centuries ago, God gave Abram a promise under the night sky: new land, offspring outnumbering the stars in the clear sky, and the news that through him and his offspring, all of the world would be blessed. We are told in Genesis that Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Hitting the old fast forward button, we come to some of Abram’s descendents held in the darkness of captivity in Babylon. The sky looked different from home, but the stars were still shining. God wasn’t done fulfilling His promises.
If Abram’s descendents wanted to hear more, they also had the alrewdy at that time, old writings of Isaiah who said, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). Salvation through death is still God’s plan. God will not let the darkness triumph. God’s glory shines in His deliverance. They may not yet see its fulfillment, in their return from captivity and the Messiah that was yet to come, but like light from the stars, it was a fact, already on the way, pieces moving into place, because God had spoken it. And when God speaks, it is done.
Fast-forward several more generations and there is another nighttime sky with stars shining in the darkness. Light has appeared. This was a special star seen in the East. The Wise Men saw that the promise to Abram had been fulfilled. All nations were now blessed. The glory of the Lord has broken forth. A promise was made flesh. Light has shown in the darkness. Light shined forth life.
Where is this glory? It is where God’s love is manifest, where sinners are saved. It was all in a child. Were it not for God’s grace, and for the faith He gives, no one would have seen that light.
What of you still today? They say, “wise men still seek him.” True. But seek this child, this Jesus, where? Stars? Ever try stargazing in the city, it’s not gonna happen because the city lights cloud the view. Glaring street lamps, headlight ribbons on the freeways, dazzling marquees, and flashing neon signs of all shapes and sizes compete for attention: Look here! Look at me! The stars that once stood as a sign are all but lost amid the pollution. Attention is diverted to the shiny artificial lights. It’s no accident that Satan deceives as Lucifer, bearer of light.
Yet, God leaves nothing to chance. You’re not off on your own. Jesus makes sure you see His light by taking you to the right place. The heavens aren’t your focus. Abraham’s promise is fulfilled. The Epiphany star proclaiming Jesus’ birth has come and gone. But Jesus’ glory still rises and shines on you, seen not where you might think to look, but Jesus directs your sight.
The spotlight of a star is not on a throne room in a capital city, but on a manger in a no nothing, hick town where infant Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind by His own death, lays. Why did Jesus come? For the darkness of Good Friday. In that midday’s darkness of death, God sends spiritual life. Who would think that a cross of wood would shine like Jesus?
Easter dawn beams into that empty tomb and confirms it all. To make sure that this saving love of Jesus is yours, Jesus focuses your vision on His light that is standing right before you. The things Jesus illumines seem unlikely. They are Jesus’ gifts that contain His promise to you; Baptism; Absolution; Word fixed to bread and wine… Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of all your sins.
Catch that… To you…. For you. As I said a few moments ago, you died your big death in your Baptism when you were drowned in Jesus’ holy flowing blood from His pierced side on the cross. Christ now lives in you and you live to Christ. To live to Christ means to receive His gifts as one who is dead. They are yours, no purchase necessary.
You know what, maybe Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was right after all. Just not in the way he thought. This is the best of all possible worlds. The Sun of Righteousness is risen. Epiphany has dawned. The Light of Jesus shines and you now bask in its eternal glow like a child lying on the grass on a beautiful summer day. Amen.