January 5, 2020
A New Light Is Shining Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6 January 5, 2020 Eph. 3:1-12 John 1:1-18
Do you remember the movie Hook? Captain Hook (played by Dustin Hoffman) and Peter Pan (played by Robin Williams) continue their epic struggle when Hook steals Pan’s kids in order to draw him back to Neverland. There’s one scene in which Captain Hook is talking to his sidekick, Smee, and he says that he’s had a “sublime vision”—an “epiphany”—and he shares his insight with Smee. Shortly afterward, Smee tries his hand at sharing his own insight, and he tells Hook, “I’ve had an apostrophe!”
The modern-day image of “having an epiphany” is that of a light bulb going on over one’s head—suddenly the light comes on and 1. we understand something, or 2. We are inspired to do something. The light comes on.
Today is Epiphany Sunday, and it is traditional to celebrate the coming of the Wise Men from the East—people of learning and wisdom, people seeking The Light.
So our question for today is: What made Israel’s light different or special? Our text from Isaiah talks about 1. Darkness covering the earth, and 2. The LIGHT of the glory of the Lord coming upon Israel—saying “nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Then Paul writes to the Ephesians about the mystery of Christ being revealed in such a way that Gentiles are now brought into the mystery of the boundless riches of Christ.
Are you ready for an apostrophe? Epiphany?! Let’s shine some light and see if we can answer our question.
God’s Dream for Israel
Throughout the Old Testament, we see that God’s dream for Israel is that it would be a nation of light—light for all the nations. Think about the qualities of light:
- It is revealing—it makes hidden things visible;
- It is motivating—once we see and understand, we can act;
- It is healing—coming into the light is synonymous with wholeness
“Nations shall come to your light.” The word for nations is “Goyiim”, and it means “others, outsiders.” In other words, the light of God’s truth will be seen from afar, and people from other traditions and cultures and religions will come to see the light. The purpose of the light is to UNITE the nations, not to divide them. This is God’s dream for Israel, as expressed by the prophets.
Isaiah says that the glory of the Lord will provide light for the darkness, that “nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” In other words, representatives from other nations will proclaim the PRAISE of the LORD! God’s dream for Israel is that the light of God’s glory will shine through Israel to the whole world!
But, as you know, Israel had a different dream. They chose to focus on the privilege of being The Chosen, rather than the responsibility. They seemed to have forgotten that God’s chosen people were set apart for a special function: to live a different life, and to reflect God’s light. For example: When the Temple in Jerusalem was built, there were four different courts. The Court of the Priests included the Holy of Holies; next was the Court of Israel (for men who had completed their Bar Mitzvah); next was the Court of the Women; and, finally, the Court of the Gentiles. Having a Court in the Temple set aside for Gentiles was a reflection of God’s dream that people would come from far and near to receive the Light! (This makes it easier to understand the righteous indignation of Jesus that this court had been turned into a marketplace—no longer a welcome for “the nations!”) No, by the time of Jesus, Israel had replaced God’s dream of service with a dream of prominence and exclusivity. So, of course, Jesus had to address this issue and make it clear that God’s light is for everyone.
God’s Dream for the Gospel
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he makes it clear that he was commissioned to carry the Good News to the Gentiles. I’m sure you remember what happened when he was first converted to the cause of Christ:
- Confronted by the Resurrected Christ, blinded;
- Waiting in Damascus, not eating or drinking;
- Ananias told by God to go and pray for him;
- Ananias was afraid;
- God: “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”
The original dream is that the Gentiles would come to Israel, to worship in the Temple, to receive the Light. Now God’s dream for the Gospel is that it be carried to the Gentiles. And, indeed, the Book of Acts shows how that paradigm shifted. Paul says, “The Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel!”
This is the message of the odd little story we have in Matthew—the one that’s central to the Day of Epiphany. It’s the story of Magi (“wise men”) who came from the East, asking for the child who had been born king of the Jews. “For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When they were directed to Bethlehem, they went there, saw the child with Mary, knelt down and paid him homage. And they gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then they went home.
It’s an odd little story that ties in with what Isaiah had prophesied: “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
I can just imagine Jesus, growing up hearing about the visit of the Magi, confirming that God wanted the Light to shine to all the nations. No wonder he intentionally led his disciples into Gentile territory and interacted with people who were generally rejected by the religious folks in Israel!
God’s Dream for Us
Friends, here is what God is saying to us about God’s dream for us. We just celebrated the birth of Christ, and Christ’s light is shining among us, right? Well, hear again the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
In the old days, it was enough to wait for people to come to us. But God’s dream for our wonderful little church is that we will take the Good News OUT, beyond our walls, into the community, sharing God’s light!