Text: Isaiah 60:1-3; Luke 2:25-32
Once upon a time Jesus was walking through a town and saw a man lying on a mat unable to stand and walk. To that man, Jesus said, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk!”
This past month we have talked about the darkness and grief that many face at this time of year. Many of us have been paralyzed by the darkness and confined to our mats, hemmed in and confined narrowly by the shadows closing in around us.
For you who struggle with the darkness – with doubt, depression, sin, sadness, and loneliness – this text is God’s Word for you today. It’s very similar to Jesus’ words to the man on the mat when he said, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” The heart of it is right there in Isaiah 60.
Arise, shine; for your light has come! (v. 1)
Like the man on the mat, hearing and believing this declaration of God’s reality and power will require faith. Like the man on the mat, we have something to leave behind and something ahead of us. Like the man on the mat, Jesus calls us to light and life. In Jesus, God’s light has come in the midst of our darkness and He calls us to reflect and shine that light for His glory.
Your light has come in Jesus Christ. Let’s consider what it means to arise and to shine.
Darkness, But (Isaiah 60:2)
As we have seen these past few weeks in Isaiah, he and the people of his time knew what it meant to live in darkness. He was writing to a people exiled far from home and cut off from God. In today’s text, he named that reality:
For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples…
Those were the real consequences for the sin of God’s people, Israel. It also describes the real consequences of human sin in general. We have always struggled with deep darkness, because that is the nature of life cut off from God.
Listen to the rest of verse 2, though:
For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; BUT!
That’s not the end of the story, for Israel, for the human race, or for you! There is darkness, BUT.
Darkness… BUT the Lord will rise upon you – like the sunrise dawning after a dark night.
Darkness… BUT God’s glory will appear upon you – warming and lighting you like the bright heat of the noonday sun.
That’s the promise kept in Jesus Christ – that God’s glory has dawned on the human race. And that’s the Good News of Christmas for each of us. Though we continue to struggle with the darkness, the glory of God HAS risen upon us and appeared before us through Jesus Christ.
This is the message we heard on Christmas Eve night and celebrated on Christmas day. Now, Isaiah presses us forward. Because of this new reality in Jesus Christ – that God’s light has come, Isaiah challenges, “Arise, shine!” Let’s look first at the story of Simeon in Luke 2, then consider what it means to arise and shine.
My Eyes Have Seen (Luke 2:30)
This is one of my very favorite stories in the Bible. I’m not sure exactly why – whether it is the tenacious faith of this old priest, or the way God gives him what he longs for, or the coming together of so much faith and promise in the arrival and consecration of Jesus. Or maybe it’s the way I picture Simeon bursting into song at the glory of the moment.
Simeon was “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel.” He lived more than 500 years into the darkness that had covered God’s people after the Exile, and he had such strong faith that he would see the glory of God dawn on the earth. He longed for it; he prayed for it. And he had a sense, a message from God’s Spirit to his, that he WOULD see that glory in his lifetime. And yet, he was old; he had waited a lifetime to see God’s face in this world.
And then Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus in to be consecrated in the Temple. And Simeon knew. I don’t know how he knew other than that God revealed this to him even as He had the knowledge that it would happen in his lifetime.
What is God’s glory? What is the light that has dawned? What is it that Simeon waited for in faith? It’s there in verse 30:
For my eyes have seen your salvation.
Light, dawning light, darkness, rising glory – those are all metaphors. But here is the reality behind those comparisons: God’s salvation. God’s salvation is God’s rescue, His deliverance, His saving us from what is behind the darkness – sin, death, evil, and self.
In this little baby – this little baby who would grow up to be the suffering, crucified, and risen Lord – God was providing rescue for you and for me out of the very worst and deadliest things we know.
Do you know what Simeon means? Have your eyes seen God’s salvation? Do you know what it is to be rescued by God? Or to be forgiven and loved by God? Do you know what it means to be welcomed home by God? This is all part of God’s salvation, accomplished solely through Jesus Christ, His Son. That’s what we mean by dawning glory, by “a light has come.”
If you haven’t seen or experienced God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, none of the rest of this will make sense. First and crucially, one must be able to say with Simeon, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” You don’t have to be perfect, or smart, or religious to say that. But you do have to know who Jesus is and trust what the Bible says about him. He is God’s rescue plan for the world, and for each of you. There is no real way out of the darkness, no real light in the world, apart from Jesus.
So that’s the Good News – when Jesus came, God reached out to rescue you from all that constitutes the darkness – sin, evil, death, aloneness, fear, addiction, depression, and more. God has done it – he’s sent His rescuer… the light has come.
Simeon is our example of what comes next. In order to know and experience what God has done through Jesus, we have to look and see so that we, too, can say, “For my eyes have seen.”
Light to See
Simeon goes on to say of God’s salvation, this baby:
… a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.
God called and named a people for Himself, not in order to bless them exclusively, but through them to bless the world. That was the mission of Israel and it is ours as well, for we are also God’s people. Our mission is to bear this “light and glory” so that those living in darkness might see the hope and the light of God’s rescue in Jesus Christ.
Isaiah writes about how this will be accomplished through Israel:
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Is 60:3).
It is light to see – light that you might see for yourself and light that you might shine for others.
You do not save people; God does, through Jesus. But God’s Spirit lives in and with those whom He saves, and that bears witness to God’s presence and work. It’s like God comes to you in the dark and lights your torch… it’s His fire and light, but now you can share it with someone else. It’s just like what we do on Christmas Eve at the candle-lighting service: the first candles are lit from the Christ candle, but then we pass the light to each other. And it’s what God intends for His people. He always has!
What does it look like to shine for others? You do this with each other, offering prayer, counsel, hugs, food, and friendship when others in the church family struggle. You have seized opportunities to shine with our church neighbors and community through “beacon events” like the yard sale, jazz concert, movie night, and BBQ. We will continue to have similar opportunities in the coming year.
In addition to our collective ministries and mission, I believe that God has a personal ministry and mission for every Christian. You may already know what yours is or that idea might be new to you. Let’s continue to figure that out together.
If, facing a long period of darkness, Isaiah could challenge his hearers to arise and shine out of faith in what God would do, how much more shall we answer that challenge now that God has sent His Son as rescuing light of the world. Arise, shine; for your light has come! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Angels from the Realms of Glory – He is Worthy (arr. Brad Henderson)
- Of the Father’s Love Begotten – Love Shines (arr. Austell)
- Go Tell it On the Mountain