Today is Epiphany
Sunday in the life of our congregation. Today, all the readings, all
the hymns, and all the candles point to the star, the guiding light
of Jesus Christ. In the old days of the old church, the candlelight
service was not Christmas Eve but Epiphany Eve. Here in our
congregation, we celebrate two festivals with candlelight: Christmas
Eve and Epiphany Sunday.
We hear the
Scriptures for Epiphany. From
Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, your light has come. Those of you who
walk in darkness, your light has come.” In addition, we hear the
same theme expressed in I John 1:5, “God is light and in God,
there is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light as he is in the
light, we have fellowship with God and the blood of Christ cleanses
us from all sin.” From the creation story in Genesis 1, “God
said, let there be light and suddenly there was light. God saw that
is was good and that pleased God. God went ooooohhh and aaaaaahhh.
God separated the light from the darkness and called the light, day,
and the darkness night, and there was evening and there was morning
and that was the first day.”
I would like you to
imagine yourself in a black room, in a very black room, in a totally
dark room, where the light is all darkened out. A closet is too
small but you have the right idea. We need a bigger room than a
closet. Perhaps a
basement of a large office building, a basement with no windows and
when the lights are out, it is pitch black. No, we need a room
bigger than that. We need the Kingdome in downtown Seattle, the
Kingdome before it was destroyed. Imagine yourself in the Kingdome,
and it is totally black. There are no exit signs. No lights from
anyplace. Total darkness. It is dark and quiet and you can’t even
see the palm of your hand. All of a sudden you hear a “boom” and
there is a gorgeous fireworks explosion overhead. It is
magnificently beautiful and the whole crowd goes ooooooooh…aaaaaaaaahh.
That was the mood
of God a long time ago at the beginning of time when there was no
light. It was only darkness. The entire universe was totally black.
God was sitting there in that black, dark universe. God looked at
the whole world; it was dark; and God was silent. Suddenly, an idea
exploded in the mind of God and there was an explosion of light and
sparkles and God went oooooooohhh….aaaaaah.
All those little sparkles stopped in the sky and they became
the stars and when God saw the stars, God said ooooooooohhhh….ahhhhhhh.
That is beautiful. Good job.
Why is it that
every Fourth of July, when you are outside someplace near Puget
Sound, in Des Moines or Seattle or Tacoma or anywhere else, you are
watching and waiting for the fireworks to begin. You are listening
to the firecrackers and laughing and smiling. Then, suddenly, the
show begins and a rocket flies up into the air, and it explodes with
effervescent light, and the whole crowd goes oooooooohhhhh…ahhhhhh.
The crowd reacts the same all around the globe. In every nation and
every nationality, all around the globe, they have firework displays
and the crowd always reacts the same to the colorful explosion in
the sky. …ooooohhhh….aaaaaahhhh.
Why? What is that?
I would like to
suggest to you that all human beings are made in the image of God.
We are like God. God is light and in God, there is no darkness at
all. Because the spark or light of God is in each and every person,
when we see exploding lights in the sky, we all go ooooooohhhh….ahhhhhh.
All human beings react positively and appreciatively to light
because we are made in the image of God; we are like God who is
light itself and the light itself is in all of us.
Let me prove my
case with examples. Let us take a six-month old baby and place that
baby in front of a Christmas tree. The baby doesn’t do anything.
But if you plug in that Christmas tree and all the lights go on, the
baby’s eyes just sparkle and light up and the baby’s eyes go
oooooooohhhh and aaaaaaahhhh. Why do all babies around the globe
respond the same way to light? What is it about human beings that we
are so fascinated with and attracted to light?
… Now that baby grows up a bit and is now six years old and
you have an Advent wreath at your house. You have four candles on
the Advent wreath on the table and the child barely notices the
wreath. But if you light the candles and there are four flickering
flames on the table, the child’s eyes are bright and alert and
watching. The unlighted candle is dead to the child’s eye, but
strike a light and the eyes light up.
Why? Why do all children throughout the world react the same?
… The six year old grows up and is soon sixteen and is out
cruising one night with his girlfriend. He parks his car on a
country road, turns off the engine, listens to the night air and
looks up into the full, harvest moon. The young man looks at the
moon and then the moonlight in her hair and he goes ooooooooohhhh….ahhhhhhh.
It happens all over the world where there are cars, dark roads and
full moons. Why do we love the moonlight? Why do we ooooh and
aaaaaah when we see full moons? … The sixteen year old becomes
twenty-six, gets married; has a baby and the baby is soon six months
old. The young parents plug in the lights of their first Christmas
tree. With their new
baby, they all are mesmerized by the beauty of the lights. Why? Why
is it that all human beings are fascinated by lights? … It is
because we are made in the image of God. God is light. In God, there
is no darkness at all. The divine spark of God is in all people;
God’s light is in all people; and therefore all people love and
are attracted to light. It is very simple.
corollary is also true. Because we are made in the image of God and
because we naturally are attracted to light, that means we don’t
like dark or darkness. We are not attracted to dark spaces and
places. A prolonged sense of darkness makes us depressed. Sometimes
we are actually afraid of the dark and don’t admit it. For
example, up in Trondsou, Norway, it is very dark. This town is
located in the northern reaches of Norway. The sun disappears on
November 25th and does not reappear until January 21st.
For two months, the sun disappears. On November 25th, the
day the sun leaves, do you think they have a big celebration? They
don’t like the day and its darkness. The first thing they do is
decorate all the windows with artificial light. They have lights all
around their windows in their houses, trying to drive the darkness
away. In that city,
there is much depression and much suicide. … I have another
question: do you like getting up early in the morning at this time
of year and seeing how dark it is outside? No, not at all. You
don’t like the darkness of the morning; nobody does. When it is
dark, dismal and raining outside, you don’t say, “What a lovely
day we have here.” … Another example. Why are most little
children afraid of the dark? If you are a child and you walk into
the dark house, you often let your mother and father go in first so
they can turn on the lights. You often turn on the lights to make
sure that there are no robbers and around.
… Or, if you come into the church late at night and alone,
when there are no lights on, the church can be scary. The old
sanctuary creaked and groaned and made night noises that you heard
clearly if you were all alone in the dark. … What I am suggesting
to you is that we need to understand human beings, and we human
beings are like God. God is light and we have a natural
predisposition to enjoy light. The spark of God is in us and
therefore we react and respond positively to the sparkles of light
in the world. And we don’t like darkness at all.
It is with this
mood that we approach the Old Testament lesson for today. In Isaiah,
God said, “Those who walk in darkness, arise. Shine. Your light
has already come. The glorious presence of God is already upon
What is the
background of this passage that invites us to rise and shine?
This passage was
written by Isaiah, and people like me call him Third Isaiah. This
passage is from Isaiah, the third section of the book, chapter 60,
towards the end of the scroll, and the people of God had just
returned from their prisoner of war camps. They Jews had just come
back to the Promised Land, back to Jerusalem, back to their old
farms and houses after many decades in exile. What were the
peoples’ feelings? Let me tell you, they were depressed. You would
have been depressed too if you had seen their homes, farms, and
country when they came back. Everything had been gutted by war. …
How would you have felt if you came back to Hamburg, Germany after
World War II and all your cathedrals and homes and factories had
been bombed out and all that could be seen was rubble. … When
these Jews came back to Israel after the prisoner of war camps,
their farms were rubble, their cities were rubble, their businesses
were rubble, their sons had been killed, their husbands eliminated.
And everybody was depressed.
depressing situation of the aftermath of war, the prophet Isaiah
wrote: “Those of you who walk in darkness, Rise. Shine. Get up.
Get going. Your light has already come. God’s light is already
shining upon you.” He said, “Lift up your heads.” I love that
line. Those of you who have your chins down, lift them up.
Those of you who have closed your eyes, open them up. Those
of you who are wallowing in depression, wake up and get up. Your
light has already come.
words were not written during the time of Father Abraham who had all
those wives, all those concubines, all those kids, all that cattle,
and all those sheep. Things were going well for Father Abraham, and
so he heard the words, “Rise, shine, get up and get going and it
will get ever better for you.” No. Nor were these words written
during the time of King David who was a military hero. “Rise and
shine David, and you will win even more military battles.” Nor
were these words spoken to King Solomon who had more riches and
wealth than the world had ever seen. “Rise, shine, Solomon, and
you will get even richer.”
No. These words
were written to people who were very depressed by what life had
given them. These words were for people who felt like quitting, who
felt like giving up, who felt like tossing in the towel.
What do these words
of God have to do with us some three thousand years later? Three
thousand years later is a long, long time. Can such old words have
any relevance for us some three thousand years later? Yes, of
All people in the
world go through periods of depression. There are no exceptions. I
don’t know anyone who hasn’t lived with depression or depressing
times. Even children go through periods of depression. I remember
the old Charlie Brown cartoon where Charlie put out the sign that
said, “Psychiatrist, 5 cents.” Lucy came to see Charlie, paid
her five cents, and said she was depressed. She said to Charlie,
“I want to go from an up to an upper up, from an upper up to an
uppity upper up.” Lucy wanted life to always go up, but life is
never like that for very long. Life goes up and down and down and
up. We all have ups and downs, and when the world is down for us and
very difficult, approaching depression or having crossed that line,
we hear the words of Isaiah, “Rise, shine. Your light has already
come. God’s glorious presence is already shining above you.”
You may be so
depressed that say to God, “I don’t feel like getting up. I
don’t feel like rising. I don’t feel like going.” The Lord
then puts his hands under your arms and starts lifting you up as you
hear the other words from Isaiah, “Are my arms so short that I
cannot help you and lift you up?”
God begins to lift us up and then again says to us, “Rise.
Shine. Your light has already come. The glory of God is all around
What are some of
those circumstances that depress us? What are those circumstances
that make up feel like giving up, quitting, or tossing in the towel?
The loss of a spouse. If you lose a husband or wife, you are
depressed for longer than you think you will be. The loss of a
child. Several of you have lost children and nothing hurts as deeply
as that. The loss of a marriage. When marriages gradually die, it is
always difficult for everyone, the husband, the wife, the children.
The loss of health. I now know that one. It happens so
suddenly and life plans change immediately when faced with serious
illness or death. The loss of job. Several of you have lost your job
and that is tough on the family finances and the personal ego. The
loss of home. I read some years back that the number one cause of
depression in women was being forced to move against their desires.
The loss of self-esteem. People actually feel suicidal when they
lose their self-esteem for any reason. The loss of a girlfriend, a
boyfriend, the list goes on and on. …Now, all of us experience a
variety of depressions. All of us do.
Does God leave us
to live in our depression, however justified? When the Jewish cities
were in rubble and their homes were in rubble and their farms were
in rubble and their temple was in rubble and their lives were in
rubble, into that situation where they were justified being
depressed, God said to his people, “Rise, shine, your light has
already come. Lift up your chin. Open your eyes. Stand up on your
legs.” The purpose of God’s words are to get us moving, to get
us going, to get us standing again and not to wallow in our
depression that all of us experience at different times of our
What does it mean
when God says, “Rise. Shine. Your light has already come. The
glory of God is already shining above you?” What does all that
The most obvious is
that God’s spark is already in you. When you were created in the
first place, God put his divine light into you. We don’t
understand how it got there, but you have God’s light inside of
you. Why do you like the lights on the Christmas tree? What do you
like to see a star filled sky? Why do you enjoy a full moon? The
divine spark of God is already in you. Just about the time you feel
like committing suicide and tossing in the towel, there is something
inside of you that says, “Get up. Get going. Do not jump. Do not
quit.” That something is the spark of God, the light of God, the
divine presence of God, the energy of God that God put into you
before you were born. That is the way you are wired.
But there is more
than that. What does it mean that God is in you, is around you and
above you? Jesus Christ is the light who guides our feet as we walk
on the paths of life. Christ is our light, our guide. He guides us
in our decisions. We all have big decisions and little decisions; we
all come to little forks in the road and big forks in the road, and
we ask God, “What shall we do? What way shall we go?” Pray that
prayer, asking God for guidance and God will answer that prayer and
give you guidance.
Also, light is the
source of energy. You wouldn’t have energy without the sun. Energy
comes from that light. Spiritual and emotional energy comes from the
Son as well, the Son of God. The very light that is inside of you,
helping you to stand up is the same light that is above you, giving
you energy. And so you have the energy of God inside of you and the
energy of God above you, for God is light and light is energy.
To all of us this
day and the rest of the days of our lives, God says, “Rise. Shine.
Your light has already come. My light lives within you. My light is
above you. My light is guidance. My light is energy. Get up. Get
going. Your light has already come.” Amen.