Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Someone asked me a very good and simple question this week. What does “epiphany” mean? It means to be revealed, to appear, to be made manifest. Whenever you see the words “revealed” or “appeared” or “manifest” when you read the New Testament, you are seeing the translation of a form of the Greek word that sounds like our word, “epiphany” – for example,
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. (what time the star had epiphanied)(Mt. 2:7; ESV).
Let’s think more upon this matter of lighting things up, that star appearing as the Savior and king revealing light. Here’s what the prophet Isaiah preached:
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Is. 60.1-3; ESV)
The imperatives to “arise”, “shine” lend a double emphasis. Be lightened, brighten up, and shine. Rise up, God is saying, from a position of humiliation. Let’s get that beaming bright look back upon those crestfallen faces. God is talking here through Isaiah to Zion, His Church of all times and places. You’ve been in the dark for some time. Now it’s time to dispel the gloom and lighten things up.
Israel had sinned terribly, going after foreign gods, forsaking the covenant made with God through Moses, and seeking the paganism, depravity, and darkness of the world and its ruler. The prophet Isaiah calls throughout the sixty-six chapters of his book on Israel to wake up and awaken to the light of God’s Word of forgiveness and grace. But they would not, and some years later, God would follow through on His threat to punish the people with exile to Babylon.
Put on the whole armor of God, says the Apostle Paul, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:11–12; ESV)
You and I live in a world and time today not unlike that of ancient Israel. The darkness of sin still covers things, still obscures things, still sees people doing the dumb, ignorant, and sometimes just plain vile, ugly, and inexcusable things they do – those things that you and I do – against God and against our neighbor, against the Ten Commandments that God expects you and me and every person to follow each and every day. That’s living in the dark, that’s being subject to the cosmic power over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places – the cosmic, universal places, the whole of the fallen creation – in other words, one can’t escape this darkness. It is what it is, and on our own, we are powerless to enlighten things or even find some spiritual light on our own.
Seems hard to believe that things will ever brighten up, knowing our own sinful condition, knowing the secret sins and things we’ve gotten wrong over the years, and then daily living in the darkness that fights so hard each day to cover things in our culture and society.
But there is a brighter day coming, and God dares to tell you, His Zion of believers in His Word, to “arise, shine”! And you can, because light is not dependent upon you. Light is being supplied. A star is beaming onward, beaming bright, a Savior and king revealed and made known, epiphanied for all to see. Your light is coming, and the Lord’s glory is dawning upon you. The Lord Himself will dawn upon you. This light and glory is God Himself.
We heard on Christmas Day this from John’s Gospel, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14). And, Jesus Himself will say later in John’s Gospel, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn. 8:12; ESV)
It has been in this season of Christmas and Epiphany where God reminds us that His Son, the Savior and Lord of all, has come, and the onset of His kingdom has dawned upon the earth. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God’s glory, at whose birth shone the divine glory round about Bethlehem’s pastures and shepherds, and at which the angels sang a heavenly song with which we join each week: “Glory to God in the highest” for the Christ brings with Him peace on earth, goodwill to all mankind.
Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord. (Is 60:4–6; ESV)
The star portends a Savior who has come to change things. Those in darkness now are in the light, those humiliated in sin are given God’s glory. The nations are coming too, and they are bringing back the exiled sons and daughters of Zion – and all the wealth of the nations will come along too. It all belongs to God, and so it belongs to His people. Those treasures, that wealth, are the lost who are found and brought home, those treasures are the poor who are made rich by the light of Christ’s coming.
The star over Bethlehem lit up most clearly to these lowly Magi from the East. They saw it, knew it to be the glory the prophets foretold, the Lord Himself dawning upon the earth, they came, and they brought their worship and adoration, and their gifts of love in response. When they saw the star come to rest over the place where the child was, they rejoiced exceedingly, with great joy. They brought gold and frankincense, just as Isaiah foresaw, and myrrh, a burial spice that would not truly be used, as it came to pass thirty-three years later. They never did give Jesus a proper burial.
For that reason, we rejoice, not in the star, but in the presence of the same crucified and resurrected Lord and Savior, whose glory shines through the darkness of this temporal life, and enlightens us, raises us up from the humiliation of our sin and gives us the gift of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation which He earned through the greatest epiphany of His glory – when He conquered the darkness of sin through His innocent suffering and death upon the cross at Calvary, and three days later rose from the dark grave in victory, a new day of creation dawning for all time.
Indeed, the “nations came to your light” – to the light of God’s presence reflecting through His people to the world. It came through the preaching of the angels to the shepherds causing them to go and see the babe in the manger. It came through the preaching of the prophets to those Magi as they witnessed the long-foretold star rise over Israel and caused them to go searching for Him who was born King of the Jews. Jesus said that when He was lifted up on the cross, He would draw all men unto Himself. All these events in the life of Christ point to the final act of salvation Jesus would accomplish on the cross.
Today, the nations come to the light through the preaching of the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, in the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church. The Holy Spirit calls sinners like you and me and your friends and neighbors to repentance, baptizes the nations into the Name of the Triune God and gives you the light of life and salvation in Jesus Christ. This good news gathers you to Christ, like it did for the shepherds and Magi, as it causes you to go diligently and seek the Christ and His forgiveness in His means of grace, and so that you too would come and worship Him. Hearing and believing the Word of Christ is to follow the Light of the world, and by grace through faith Christ gives you the promised wealth beyond imagination of the heavenly inheritance to come. For the ultimate goal is not a lowly house outside of Bethlehem, nor even one in downtown Terre Haute, but it is the day when you will see and be radiant in the true Light of Light, and your heart shall thrill and exult as God’s glory shines unabated, and forever.
On the great and final day, when the Light of the World is fully epiphanied, as the prophet Isaiah preached, everyone, from lowly shepherds to pagan magi to the kings in the highest places, will all come in adoration to the brightness of Zion’s star, the Savior and King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Even as He continues to epiphany Himself to us here in His Church in and under His means of grace, enlightening us with His light and life, so we pray that God grant us that final and greatest epiphany to come soon, and God grant it for Jesus’ sake.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +