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The Epiphany of Our Lord - Series A

Text: Matthew 2:1-12 & Isaiah 60:1-6

Title: “The Light Shining in the Darkness”

Date: January 6, 2019

Pastor Steve Bocklage

While I was attending Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, seven seminarians and I went to Alaska for two weeks in May 2001 on a cross-cultural visit to observe and learn about the culture of Christian Athabaskan Indians. While in central Alaska, the average temperature for that time of the year was in the low 40’s and it never got completely dark at night. But in the middle of winter, it’s a different story. In the farthest northern tip of the state of Alaska…above the Arctic Circle…is the town of Barrow…where the sun sets in the afternoon on November 18 and it doesn’t rise again until January 24. That is 65 days of continuous darkness. The sun doesn’t shine for 65 straight days. And the temperature can get down to 50 degrees below zero. Up there, the earth is tilted in such away that the sun never shows itself for over two months out of the year. But when the sun does rise for a moment on January 24, the whole town of Barrow comes out to celebrate because, finally, there is light again!
         Today, not only are we celebrating the service of church officers who serve the Lord by serving us and the first worship service of the New Year…we are also celebrating The Epiphany of Our Lord, which is the official beginning of the Epiphany season and has been celebrated in the Church since 361AD. But what exactly does the word epiphany mean? Epiphany is the English form of a Greek word meaning “appearance” or “manifestation.” An “epiphany” is when something reveals itself, or shows itself. In Barrow, Alaska…after 65 days of darkness…the sun finally reveals its glory for everyone to see. This is an epiphany.

Likewise, throughout the next several weeks during the Epiphany season, the Son of God will reveal His glory for everyone to see. The Scripture readings, the hymns, the sermons…everything that you see and hear…everything you sing and pray in our worship service…will serve one purpose. That purpose is to reveal to you…to show you…the glory of your Savior Jesus Christ. That is what the season of Epiphany is all about…the proclamation that this Jesus…this newborn King…this God-in-the-flesh…is for you!

         This God-in-the-flesh is also for the Magi in our Gospel reading. There, we observe the arrival of the Magi, or Wise Men, in order to honor and worship baby Jesus. For 2,000 years, the story of the Magi has intrigued us. Who were these travelers from the East that came to worship this very young King of kings? Where exactly in the East were these men from? How many Wise Men from the East were there? Remember that three gifts do not necessarily mean three people.

Not only do we have questions about the Magi, but there are also questions about that light in the sky…the star that St. Matthew mentions. Was it an alignment of the planets that God arranged to point to Jesus? Was it a super nova or a celestial miracle? Was there one light or were there two lights…one to get the Magi in the general vicinity and another to point out Jesus specifically? Much to our frustration, the Bible answers none of these questions.

         However…we do know that the Magi were guided by the promises of Holy Scripture to find and worship the Christ Child. But King Herod only saw the Christ Child as a threat to his throne. And still to this day, there are only two kinds of people in the world in God’s eyes. Those who believe in the one, true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…and believe this Babe of Bethlehem is the Savior born for them. And then there are those who don’t believe in the triune God but do believe they can save themselves through their own good works. They believe they can be good enough and become great enough. All they need to do is put their minds to it and work at it.

This is the darkness that the prophet Isaiah speaks about in the Old Testament reading you heard earlier. The thick darkness…the darkness of sin that you and I are born into and live in. Our eyes adjust to the darkness and we become use to it, so that it can seem good to us. You and I work and live in the darkness of sin and have gotten accustomed to. Many people comment that the world seems to be getting worse, not better. Why are we surprised? This is the darkness…the thick darkness of sin.

         In a thrilling incident of the battle of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942, a destroyer had been torpedoed and 116 men were struggling for their lives in the oil-burdened waters, swimming about and clinging to rafts. Their cries for help were answered by return cries from three cruisers, "but only some unknown, friendly hand aboard the Houston had the quickness of mind to throw them the illuminated life preserver. It was the light attached to it that guided a British destroyer to their rescue." "Regulation American Navy life belts, with a floating light attached, tossed overboard from the cruiser Houston," were the means that saved the lives of these men. They not only supported them in the dark, troubled waters, but led to their final safety.

What a vivid picture of the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ! “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn. 1:4-5) He is the Light of the world, and He gives life to all who believe in Him. Even God’s prophet Isaiah writes in our Old Testament reading: “Arise, shine, for your light has come….” What God’s Word is talking about here is a different kind of light and a different kind of darkness. And when this special light that God speaks about begins to shine through that ugly darkness, the results are very joyful.  Notice what the prophet says. Isaiah assures you that “your light has come”…not “a light has come.” In other words, the Light has come for you!

         This Light is the same light that continues to shine in the darkness of our world today through the preaching of God’s Word. After all, God the Holy Spirit has promised to be in His Word and work in the hearts of those who hear His Word. As God’s Word is proclaimed in the darkness of this world, it is this Light that pierces the darkness of sin in the hearts of people everywhere. And it has shined on you too! Just as God took His Word to the Wise Men in the East, so He took His Word to you in your Baptism. Just as the Wise Men were led to Jesus in flesh and blood by God’s Light and Word, you too have been led to Jesus’ body and blood on the altar by God’s Light and Word. Just as these unworthy Wise Men fell before the Lord…you also who are unworthy fall before the Lord in repentance.

         And by God’s grace, you believe His Word and come to worship the One born for you. You come and fall before God your Savior, like the Wise Men. Your wisdom…your journey …your works…your treasures…whatever you are, or have, or have done…are nothing compared to this One born for you! This One born for you is everything! He is your light…your life…your forgiveness…your hope…your Savior. He is for you! The Lord Jesus is for you on the cross…He is for you in His resurrection and ascension. The Light of the world is for you when He comes again to judge both the living and the dead. It is you who receive from Him the greatest gifts of all…the gifts of faith, forgiveness of your sins, and the promise of life eternal.

So epiphany…this revelation of God’s Son and what He has come to do…is for all people, including you and me. By grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His work for you, His light is shining in the darkness of your life. It shines on you and shines through you. This Light makes saints out of sinners. “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” Isaiah proclaims, “and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Is 60:1) Amen.

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