We easily take light for granted1. Light does not seem extraordinary. We’re not amazed at the fact that we can simply flip a switch and flood a room with light. We expect every morning that the sun will rise, that we can put on some sunglasses if it’s too bright or turn on a lamp if it’s too dim. We have computers and e-readers and smartphones that have their own lights built right in; their screens light up whatever we need to see at the time.
But friends, whether we realize it or not, light is precious. Light is a miracle. Light is a gift from God.
A good example of this is a form of light that is fading with new technologies, but is still quite famous around here: the lighthouse. Lighthouses remind us of times when lights aren’t just modern conviences; they can save your life. Whether they’re marking the entrance to a port or warning against dangerous reefs or rocks, lighthouses shine a clear signal to boats and ships on the dark water.
It’s easy to forget, but this huge lake just a few feet from us here can actually be quite dangerous. Dozens of ships have sunk in Lake Michigan, mostly in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some famously even sunk very near to us in Two Rivers. It makes you see how important lighthouses were. In a dangerous, dark place, like on the water at night, you need a clear signal, you need something shining out to show you where you need to go.
And it’s not surprising that a lighthouse could be a symbol for what God does for us. It’s right there in our school building up on 45th Street. On a high wall in the commons there, carved on a relief is a picture of a lighthouse with the words, The LORD is my light and my salvation. (Ps. 27:1)
Why do we need God to give us light? Because we live in a dark world. There is all around us, sin inside of us, and it all wants to pull us under. As Christmas and its celebrations fade away, most of us will be going back “to the real world” soon. School will be starting again. Jobs will be back in full swing if they weren’t already. And maybe it’s the cold temperatures or the early darkness that still comes every day, but it’s easy to feel down. It’s easy to feel depressed this time of year. It’s easy to start to think that God doesn’t feel so great. It doesn’t seem like he’s really there for me. It’s easy to sink into despair.
But your light has come! Jesus’ birth guarantees that God has not abandoned his creation; he has not left us alone, sinking in the dark. His death guarantees us that w will live. He has rescued us, pulled us out from drowning in our own sins, and it is he who will bring us home.
So as this Christmas season ends, remember that we have light. Not necessarily a light outside or a light in a lighthouse. We have light from God. We have the light of his presence, his forgiveness, and his salvation forever. Your light has come!
Our text from the prophet Isaiah starts with a wake-up call. Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. (Is. 60:1) Rise and shine! That’s what someone might say to wake someone up. Rise and shine! Get up! The sun is shining and the day has begun; it’s time to get out of bed!
But Isaiah is telling us to get up! Your light has come! God’s glory is rising on you! He’s telling us we don’t need to be down and depressed. We don’t need to walk feeling the burden of sin and death. We can stand up straight, because our burdens have been lifted. Your light has come. It’s like we are shining with God’s light.
It’s kind of like how the moon doesn’t shine on its own. The moon isn’t bright. It’s a big hunk of rock in the sky. But when the sun shines on it, we see the moon glowing. Depending on the night, the moon can be pretty bright with that reflected light. Isaiah is telling us that that’s us. God’s glory is shining on us, so we shine with its reflected light. Your light has come!
Why is this important? Well, the fact is, we don’t always live like we’re shining lights of God. Sometimes we live like we’re dull and dead. There’s a story about Martin Luther and his wife, Katie. I can’t verify that this story is true, but I still like it. Luther apparently came home to find his wife Katie wearing her black funeral dress. So he asked her, “Who died?” She responded, “God died. At least he must have with the way you’ve been moping around.” Supposedly this actually worked and snapped Luther out of it.
We can be the same way he was. “How was church?” “Oh, fine. Not many people there. I remember when people used to have to watch the service in the basement the church was so full. Oh, and the service was too long and I didn’t like the hymns…” And that’s just how we can talk about church. What about the rest of our lives?! God is not dead. Jesus is not dead. He is alive! He was born, he died, and he rose! That changes everything! Your light has come!
And we think, “But there’s still sin all around us!” And there is. But it’s been taken care of. Our text says, See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples. (Is. 60:2) This is a picture of sin. It’s everywhere. It covers everything and it brings death. It’s horrible!
But it no longer applies to you. Oh sure, we still sin. We still die. But our sins are forgiven in Jesus. Our death is only a sleep in Jesus. As Isaiah says, Darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. (Is. 60:2) Your light has come!
Having this light changes who we are. In makes into God’s people, his family. That’s what Isaiah is talking about as our text continues. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Is. 60:3) People from all nations would go the Lord. That’s us today. We’re a part of these nations that are sons and daughters of the King. In other words, when you’re a believer, your family gets way bigger.
This is the time of year when a lot of us have seen our families. Maybe even family members from far away have travelled to us, or we’ve gone to them. But, usually around this time of year, that stops. The get-togethers come to an end. Families go back home. But through our faith, our family is much bigger than that.
Think about it; do you realize what a miracle it is that any of you are here today? We think of the magi travelling far to get to Bethlehem. But I’m pretty sure we’re farther away from Bethlehem now than the wise men ever were. How is it that a group of believers would be in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, of all places, so many miles from Bethlehem?
That’s the miracle of faith. That’s the miracle of God shining his light in our hearts by Word and Sacrament. He has brought us into his family of faith. Yes, family! By faith, we are connected to those wise men who travelled to Bethlehem so long ago. By faith, we are connected to Christians around the world. By faith, we are sons and daughters of the King.
We get to look around at people in our congregation and know that we’re family. We’re a family of faith. Look at how Isaiah pictures it in our text. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. (Is. 60:4) That means we help each other. We come to the same Savior.
And we’re going to need help. After all, we still go after sin. Even though Jesus has set us free from it, even though he’s forgiven it. It’s amazing how good sin still seems to us sometimes. And we all know people who have followed that sin away from God’s light. You know people who have fallen away from the faith.
It’s not like the people who do this are somehow bad people compared to you and me. We’re all just as sinful. We all have that part of us that wants to wander. It’s only God’s grace that keeps us following his light and not continuing after the false light of sin.
You see, I remember a light that my neighbors growing up had in their backyard. They had a pool, and when you swam there at night, they turned on a big, bluish-green light. It was called a bug-zapper. And it lived up to its name. Bugs would see the light of this thing and they couldn’t help but fly toward it. And when they touched it, zap, dead.
That’s what sin does to us. Those temptations look like a light. They look so inviting, but they can lead to death. That’s why it’s so important for us to stay in God’s Word. That’s why we need to keep hearing God’s voice in the Bible so we can recognize God’s voice for what it is, and recognize temptation for what it is also.
And when you start wandering from the right path, your family will hopefully be there to steer you right again. And likewise we help people in our family when temptation starts hitting them. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
And because we are God’s family, we want to serve him. Being his family energizes us. It lights us up to live for him in everything we do. That’s what Isaiah describes in our text: Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. (Is. 60:5)
As we see the family that God has made us, as we rejoice in the forgiveness he has won for us, as we look forward to the heaven where he has reserved a place for us, we can’t help but rejoice. Our hearts throb and swell with joy. And we bring him our gifts.
This doesn’t just mean that our offerings have to go up. Or that we’re required to be on a church committee or something — although we might very well do those things. It means, we serve him however we can with the blessings he’s given us. Most of us no longer have much use for frankincense, but we do have ways to serve our God still today. With our time and abilities. With our offerings. With who we are.
As Isaiah says, Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord. (Is. 60:6) Wherever God has put us, we come. Whatever he has put into our hands, we give. However we can praise him, we do.
How can we do all this, friends? Because of the light! Not the light in this church or the light in a lighthouse, but the light that only comes from our God. It is that light that has come in the Christ-child, that has come in the manger and died on the cross. It is that light that shined from an empty tomb and still shines in our hearts. It is the light that makes us family. It is the light that moves us to service.
So rejoice! Rise, and shine! Your light has come!