Isaiah 60:1-7 Epiphany
By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 11 2019 09:09AM
January is a very dark month, isn't it. The lights have come down, the festivities are over but the days are still short. As we look at the news we see darkness too. More young men stabbed, people missing from their homes and war and violence around the world. Darkness. This has been written about society: "No-one calls for justice; no once pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil . . . They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths . . . We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows." It could be describing our society, couldn't it? But it was written over two and a half millennia ago, in the chapter of Isaiah directly before the one we read.
It's probably helpful to remind ourselves of the structure of the book of Isaiah. The first part, up to chapter 39, is mostly about how God wants his people and the nations around them to live, their abject failure to do it and the punishment to come: exile. Chapters 40-55 are far more positive. They speak of God's redemption, and a future of hope. But by chapter 56 it's clear that all won't be peaceful and happy and perfect once the exile is over. In fact the same problems will be there. It raises the question: how can the problem of humanity be solved? Who can turn things around? In 59:15 and 16 things have reached rock bottom: "The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no-one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene." So what did he do? Another exile? Another flood? No. The end of v16 "So his own arm achieved salvation for him and his own righteousness sustained him." God would right the wrongs. v20 "The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those who repent of their sins, declares the Lord." It's a great Messianic promise. And by the beginning of our chapter, 60:1, we see the promise coming to life. As we follow the chapter through (and we'll need to look at the whole chapter, so it might be an idea to have it open in front of you) we'll learn 3 important things: Get up - God is here; God's answer is bigger than your imagination; and God will change the world. Let's look at it together.
Get up! God is here! That's literally what v1 means "Arise, shine, for your light has come." God is here. He was there then, in the darkness of post exilic Jerusalem and he is here now in the darkness of our world. We can shine because God is our light. That's a wonderful reminder, isn't it? When the world seems dark, when the things human beings inflict on one another are cruel and hateful, we can stand up and shine because God is here. v2 "See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over your". The darkness is no match for the light. Now we can't read those words without thinking of the words at the start of John's gospel "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." While God's presence was with his people anyway, God was looking to a further horizon, to his redeemer, the light. It's written in that prophetic perfect again, the way God talks about things still in the future as already having happened, because it's so certain that they will. Jesus the redeemer was on his way. But there's a surprise coming. It's our second point:
God's answer is bigger than your imagination. v3 "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." Suddenly it's not just about God's people, Zion, it's about the whole world. As his people shine with the light of God's presence, it attracts the attention of the nations. Light is attractive isn't it? It's not just moths that gather around a flame, we are attracted to light. It's why we light up our homes and ooh and ahh over the New Year fireworks. Light is attractive, and all the more so when it's God's light, the light of the world. The first fulfilment of this promise came on the first Epiphany which we celebrate today. v6 says "All from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense" and the magi did come with their gifts. But they were only the forerunners. The different places God names shows that he's talking about people from every direction. The wealth of the seas would come from the north and the west; Midian and Ephah and Sheba were in the south and the east; the islands of v9 could mean the outer reaches of the known world, like us, and Tarshish is thought to be in Spain. God's saying people will come from everywhere, bringing with them their wealth. Why? v6 & 7 "proclaiming the praise of the Lord . . . they will be accepted as offerings on my altar and I will adorn my glorious temple." It's in worship. People will literally come and lay down their splendour before God, knowing that no earthly possessions can surpass knowing the salvation of the God of light.
When you put this promise into its Biblical context, you can see how it's always been part of God's plan. In Genesis 12 God promised to bless the whole earth through Abraham. Jesus himself said in Matthew 8:11 " I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." The Magi were the symbolic first, but they were followed by many more. As the book of Acts unfolds, we see people coming from 'Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth', until now there are millions upon millions of Christians around the globe. We can often feel gloomy in this country as we see churches struggle to maintain their numbers, competing against Sunday sport or even just pyjama days. But in other parts of the world the church is expanding rapidly. Recently, in Indonesia, pastor Billy saw his church grow from 400 to over 6000 in just 4 years. In Iran the house churches are growing and producing new house churches every week. In Africa the number of Christians has risen by 51% in the time I have been ordained. That is dramatic growth. God's promise is being fulfilled and it is a source of joy! As we think of all these brothers and sisters being added to God's kingdom daily, we get a taste of how it will be when every knee will bow. Oh how we need to ask for forgiveness for thinking God's promises are only about us and our church, God's promises are far bigger than we could ever imagine.
And they are bigger still. Point 3: God will change the world. To see how, we need to go to the end of the chapter, to v17-22. Here we are presented with a further horizon to God's promise. From the end of v17 "I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light and your God will be your glory." This is the time when darkness will be truly vanquished and God's rule will be over the heavens and the earth. It's the same promise we see in the picture of the new heaven and the new earth when Jesus returns in Revelation 22:5 "There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever." This world of pain and suffering and darkness is temporary. One day we will see God's light shining over all the world.
So in this dark January, in this dark world there is much reason for hope. God is here and his light is shining in the darkness, we just need to, in the words of v4 "Lift up our eyes and look about us", look to Jesus the light of the world. And God's answer to the dark is even bigger than our imagination. It's not just about us in our small corner, but the whole world. His light is shining, and the church is growing in places we've never even heard of. Then one day God will change the world, as his light shines unfettered when Jesus returns. So often our eyes are cast down and we can only see a small circle of light around our feet, if we can see any at all. Lift up your eyes and see the wonderful light of the Lord Almighty shining brightly, as you look forward to the day when the already conquered darkness will be cast away forever.