Lessons: Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
Hymns: LSB 367, 395, 397, TLH 99
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are some major themes covered in our Epiphany lessons. And there are some major themes covered throughout the Epiphany season. For example, we hear about the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, the Gospel is for Gentiles, the Magi come to worship our Lord, Christian worship involves gifts given to God, Jesus reveals Himself as God, and we have the theme of Jesus as the Light.
Tonight, we will focus on the theme of light. Let’s start by looking at the birth of John the Baptist. His father Zechariah was the priest appointed to burn incense in the Temple. While he was in there, the angel Gabriel appeared and told him that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a child—the one who would prepare the way of the Lord. Since Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, he questioned the angel, along with the message God delivered through the angel. As a result, John lost his voice and would not regain it until his son is born.
On the eighth day after John the Baptist is born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, it was time to circumcise and name the child according to Old Testament law. Elizabeth said his name will be called John. Some felt he should be named after his father. Since Zechariah couldn’t speak, he wrote, “His name is John.” At that, he regained his speech, and everyone marveled. The people knew something very significant was happening.
Then Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76-79).
Did you catch that? Through the preaching of John about Christ, he will give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
It is good to have an evening Epiphany service, instead of transferring it to the nearest Sunday. By having the service at night, it shows that world lies in darkness. All those who do not believe in Christ are in darkness. All who do not know Christ are in the shadow of death.
But in this House of God, the lights are on. While the world is dying (reflected by the incredible cold commonly found this time of year), life is proclaimed here. We are not in darkness. We are in the light. We are illumined by the Word of God. Through this Word, we are given knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins.
Zechariah understood that John’s purpose was to preach the Word—to bring the light to those in darkness—to prepare the way of the Lord—to preach repentance and to baptize sinners into Christ. As the Psalmist declared, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105)
That’s what the Word does. It brings us light. It’s an epiphany—the revelation of Jesus Christ. God’s Word reveals our Savior, Jesus, to us.
Forty days after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple according to the Old Testament Law. They offered a sacrifice of two doves or pigeons, as the Law required. A man named Simeon was present. God revealed to him that he would see the Christ before he dies. Simeon found Jesus in the Temple and took Jesus up in his arms and blessed God saying, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word, For mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation which Thou has prepared before the face of all people, A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy People Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). You know these words. You sing them after you receive Holy Communion. We have seen the great light. We have received the Gospel of Jesus. We have consumed the Body and Blood of Christ. We are ready to die. For the Light of Christ has brought us life and salvation. Death has no power over us.
To see this truth, let’s fast forward to Good Friday. Here at Grace, we have been using the Tenebrae service on Good Friday. We darken the building as the service progresses. We gradually turn off the lights. One by one, we extinguish the candles.
When Jesus died on the cross, darkness covered the face of the earth. In the middle of the day, there was darkness throughout the world! This is because Jesus, the Light had died.
But then remember what we do here on Holy Saturday. We gather at the entrance of the church. The lights are off. The candles are not lit. It is supposed to be dark, just as we left Church on Good Friday. Standing outside, the pastor places the nails in the Paschal candle. He traces the Alpha and Omega on that candle, for Jesus is the beginning and the end. He lights the Paschal Candle from the fire that is burning outside.
All our candles are lit from that one candle. The altar candles are lit. The lights are turned on. Again, we find ourselves gathered in the Church when it is dark outside. But the light returns. We celebrate the return of the light and the Resurrection of our Lord with great joy.
What does this all mean? Jesus is the Light that cannot be snuffed out. He cannot be put out. He cannot be stopped. He cannot be defeated. For our Lord Jesus Christ rose victoriously from the grave to bring light and life to all nations.
Sunrise services on Easter are a deep tradition in the Christian Church because the dawning sunlight represents the Resurrection. And the Resurrection shows the Light of Christ cannot be put out.
In our Epistle, St. Paul writes to the Ephesians. He describes himself as the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles. He also writes, “I am the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8).
Why does Paul do this? Why does he call himself chief of sinners, an apostle born out of due time, or least of the saints?
He not only acknowledges the sin he inherited and the temptation of the flesh, but he is also acknowledging his past life. You see, he was a very zealous Jew. He thought he had it all figured out. He saw Jesus and His followers as a threat to the true faith. He knew they needed to be put to death. So, Paul—then known as Saul—worked tirelessly to get rid of Christians. He consented to their death. He worked to preserve Judaism and destroy Christianity.
Then one day Saul was traveling to Damascus. Suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. He fell to the ground and heard a voice—it was the voice of Jesus. Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are persecuting Me?” Saul replied, “Who are you, Lord?” Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Then Jesus gave Saul some instructions to go into the city for what he must do. Saul goes to Damascus and meets up with Ananias. Ananias baptizes Saul and Saul becomes a Christian. The light of the Gospel came to this evil man. He was converted to Christianity.
You see in this example from Acts 9:1-19 two references to the light. First, the light of Christ blinded Saul for a time. Second, the light of the Gospel of Christ brought forgiveness, life, and salvation to Saul.
The light also comes to you. You were in darkness. You were dead in your sins and trespasses. And then the Gospel was applied to you. You were baptized into Christ. You were brought into His light.
Paul (renamed from Saul) was sent to bring the light of the Gospel to the Gentiles. This light is not just for a few. But it is for all people. That is demonstrated by the Magi who come from the East to worship Jesus. This shown in our Psalm that the kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts. Our Lord will have dominion from sea to sea. The Gospel is for all nations. We also see in this in our Old Testament lesson. The Good News of Jesus has come and brought light to the Jews and to the Gentiles. Hear again these words of Isaiah, “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” (60:1-3).
All of this is tied together by the Christmas Gospel—John 1—in which the Apostle writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 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.” (John 1:1-5).
Indeed, Jesus is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. For Jesus Himself declared in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Finally, I’d like to close with these words of Jesus, In His Sermon on the Mount, He said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
Let your light shine—in service to your neighbor. You are the light of the world. You are a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. Jesus is present among you. His Word has been fulfilled. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen