Sermon: Arise, shine, for your light has come. –
Sunday 7th January, 2018
Pastor Noel Due Sermon, Epiphany1 St Petri
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you Isaiah 60:1
I don’t know how it was with you in primary school, but when I was in primary school they used a phrase which said that it was time to get your thinking caps on. I am not sure if that Phrase Is Still Current. I was never much good at finding where those caps were kept, I must admit, because they seemed to be particularly needed during mathematic lessons, or what in those days used to be called arithmetic or Sums. My thinking cap seemed never to fit very well.
You do need to have your thinking cap on a bit today, except in a different sort of way. When we have a thinking cap in the Bible, it’s actually not a logical cap that we wear. The Bible is not so much interested in logical progression that might fit mathematics or arithmetic or sums. The Bible Is much more a book of images, and pictures and concepts which overlap with one another, which inter-penetrate with one another, which reinforce one another, show one another off by contrast. You need to have a thinking cap that is more imagination than mathematics is imagination. Although if there is a mathematics teacher here they would tell me that that not true because true mathematical solutions are imaginative and elegant. But, we won’t go into that.
So here today, we have a set of very well-known and famous readings “Arise, shine for your light has come. The glory of God has risen upon you – Isaiah 60 to 66 is the culmination of the book of Isaiah. It Is the ringing affirmation of all of God’s Promises. It is the piece de resistance of everything that their prophet has been looking forward to. It Is a bell ringing exciting fulfilment, and If you read Isaiah 60 to 66, it is full of blessing, fruitfulness, joy and glory, thanksgiving, happiness and rejoicing. If you read all of the chapters that lead up to that, It’s a different story.
Thinking caps that are not logical sometimes work best with word associations, so If I give you a word, a whole constellation of ideas enter into your mind. If I use the word “Cricket” there is a whole constellation of images out there in your heads. You could probably tell me all about them. If I use the phrase, “Sodom and Gomorrah” a whole different image comes into your mind doesn’t it. If I use the words the “Holy City, the new Jerusalem”, a whole set of different images come into your mind. If I use the word “darkness” – not just night, but darkness. Because we are used to darkness being a metaphorical imaginative concept aren’t we.
Has anyone ever given you a dark look? Have you had some dark thoughts? In Star Wars there is a “Dark Lord”. Do people have “dark Ideas” and “dark intentions”? And when they reveal them and suddenly win, are they not a bit of a “dark horse”? We are familiar with the idea of darkness and the more you think about it, the more you find that our very English language has incorporated all sorts of ways to handle the subtlety of what happens in the darkness. Not the night, but the darkness, because you can be living in the darkness even when it is the brightest daylight. So you can have dark thoughts even on a bright morning like this morning. The amazing thing Is that when you read Isaiah 60 – 66, the image is full of light and glory and rejoicing and blessing. But the people to whom that promise is made are people who have been in darkness, and not just in darkness but are a part of the darkness. Isaiah 60 says to God’s people in the Old Testament “Your Light has come! Arise, shine, the Glory of God has come upon you, the nation’s will now come”. That very group of people earlier on in Isaiah, in Chapter 1, are called Sodom and Gomorrah.
The way that Paul speaks about this in the New Testament is a very telling phrase in the book of the Ephesians. Chapter 5, just a couple of chapters after our New Testament reading where he says this “You were darkness – but now you are light in the Lord”. It is a very confronting image for us to try and understand because we like to think of ourselves relative to other people, and relative to other people they may be in darkness, or do dark deeds or be a bit of a dark horse or have dark thoughts or give dark looks, but we tend not to put ourselves in that category. It’s a them and us way of thinking about things. But what Isaiah has been saying all the way through the 66 Chapters, and what Paul says in that one verse, “you were darkness” is that we live and are together in a situation where there is no comparison necessary – because we are all as dark as one another. The pharisees were as dark as the zealots, who were as dark as Pilot, who was as dark as the disciples, who were as dark as you and me – we are all Solomon and Gomorrah. That’s the message.
There is an old hymn that I used to sing in another congregation when I was a Pastor there many years ago. Part of the words of words of that hymn go, Guilty vile and helpless we. Spotless Lamb of God was he. Hallelujah what a Saviour.
One of the members of that congregation said to me, you know Pastor, I wish we didn’t have to sing that hymn, I don’t like it. I said “Why not? “Well” she said, “I might be guilty sometimes, but I’m certainly not vile and helpless. I thought that this tells a whole story doesn’t it, that we don’t want to see ourselves as being part of that darkness. We want to be those few who are more righteous than the others. We want to be able to look comparatively at those other people, and the other people are the problem. The other people are the wicked ones, and the other people are the dark ones. On a scale we might not be fully radiant light but at least we are more tinged with Surf and Omo than they are. But as you read the scriptures, you get no possibility offered to you of such a perception. The prophetical books of the Bible, if you have read them through and I don’t know how many of you will have read the book of Isaiah for example, all the way through, they don’t leave you any room to hide. The Sermon on the Mount. People sometimes say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people just lived by the Sermon on the Mount”. Hands up if you could live by the Sermon on the Mount! Once you’ve read It doesn’t leave anyone standing. It slays all of us, and when Jesus (Mark 7) says, “It’s from within, out of the heart of a human being that comes – and he lists a terrible list of sins and transgressions: Adultery and murder and thieving and coveting. It is not them out there! It is not the others! It’s not them that made me do it – it’s me. It’s from this person, it’s from the very centre of me that this thing comes. That darkness is me and I am in it. I can‘t make the impure things pure by my own efforts.
You might know the story of the Pastor who was giving the children’s talk at the front of the church. It is a nice group of children and he says, “I’ve got a question for you”. I’m going to describe something you have to guess what it is. “It’s big and has got little black button eyes and a little sort of flat black spoon shaped nose and round fluffy ears. It goes along on all fours and it climbs trees and it’s grey on the back and white on the front”. The little boy down the front says, “Well Pastor, it sounds like a Koala, but the answer has to be Jesus.” In the children’s talk, the answer Is always “Jesus”.
What connects Isaiah 60 “Arise and shine for your light has come” with Matthew 2 “…and the nations represented by these wise men of unknown number. There were not three, nor four, there could have been 20 or 2, we don’t know. They come representing the nations now coming to the light. Jesus, the light of the world shining in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, and they come to the light, drawn by the light of His star – something that is particularly a creation of God for Him. It is not something that you can find up in an astronomical journal.
In Ephesians Paul is bowing his knee before God because of the great mystery that now all the Nations of World are coming to learn the truth of the Gospel through Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World. They who sit in darkness shall see a great light.
What connects all of those things? The answer has to be “Jesus!”
Jesus in a way, that doesn’t leave you thinking that you can do something about your own darkness. Jesus in a way, who transforms everything that you think about yourself so that you give up on any possibility to do anything to make yourself less dark than you are. Jesus in a way that comes and proclaims the Gospel in the words of the 10 Commandments expressed in His teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, and it leaves you darker than when you started, because there at that point, when you recognise that you are sitting in darkness, and how dark it is, then, the Light of the World means something to you. Until then you’ll be interested to take Him on as a good moral teacher, you might like to distil a few principles from Him and live by them. You might even point others to Him as a very good example to follow and that you’re trying to live up to it, but in all of those things He is not yet your Saviour. He has come to take the people from Sodom and Gomorrah, also known as Jerusalem, also known as the people of God, and turn them into his bride. His light filled, glorious, holy, bride!
When does that happen? From one point of view, it happened 2000 years ago, when Christ died and He said, “It is Finished”. “I have done what you have sent me for father”. “I have accomplished what you have purposed for me to accomplish”. It Is finished! This church is now a redeemed church and we enter into that through Baptism. We reaffirm it through the receiving of the Holy Communion. We have our hearts refreshed in it by the hearing of His Gospel – but from one point of view it was all done and dusted 2000 years ago.
Most of us here I guess, are citizens of Australia. Not all of us perhaps, but most of us. Being a citizen of Australia means that you are a citizen no matter where you go, no matter how you feel, even if at a certain point you decide that you no longer like the Government of the day and you rebel against it, not just in the ballot box. You’re still a citizen of Australia. That’s a good Image to think about the way it now is that you are a Christian “Your light has come”. It’s not your light that you derive from within yourself but the Light has come to you and it shines through you. He shines through you. Even though now, as a citizen of that kingdom, you may have dark periods or you may have some dark moods from time to time, or you may have dark thoughts. Or sometimes you may stand in the corner and raise your hands against God and say “Lord, why is this happening?” Doesn’t change the fact that you are a citizen of that Kingdom and that your light has come. That now, whether you see it or not, believe it or not, that light is shining through you. But It will not just shine through you now, it will shine through you even more brightly for all eternity on that day when He comes and reclaims us. And He presents to Himself the church without spot or wrinkle or blemish. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it for those of us who are getting a bit older with spots, wrinkles, blemishes. Wouldn’t need a plastic surgeon. Sorry to the doctors present. I’m speaking as a man, who by God’s grace, is in the light. To a group of people who by God’s grace, are in the light.
No matter how dark you may have felt this morning when you woke up. You are in the light. That place where you once were, has been utterly taken away and transformed. Through the coming of the light into the world and in a way that we can hardly even understand or even begin to put our finger on. That light, was plunged into the deepest abyss. Darkness on the cross – so dark, that His own mind was obscured and His own heart confused and His own conscience tormented. So that He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. In His imperial strength He dived down to the deepest depths of darkness and there He has caused His light to shine and has expelled darkness. He has risen up and He has you in His hand and He has me in his hand. So, arise and shine, for your light has come and the glory of the nations will walk by that light.
May the Lord grant it to be so, and grant us the hearing of this word this morning. Amen.