Based on: Isaiah 60:1-6
As I read these verses from Isaiah I picture a woman all alone in a desert, nothing but sand for miles. She doesn’t know there is nothing but sand because it is absolutely dark, no sun, no moon, no stars, no light at all. She is sitting there in her misery with nothing look forward to, no joy, no hope, nothing.
Very quickly, the sun comes up. The glory of the Lord rises upon her. She stands up and looks out over the now bright desert. People are coming to her from all around. No matter what direction she turns her eyes, people are walking, running, and riding toward her. Sons and daughters she never knew she had are coming to her. Not only are they coming to her, but they bring gifts: gold, incense, camels – the wealth of nations come to her. What joy and happiness is hers now!
Who is this woman on whom the glory of the Lord rises? Who is this woman to whom sons and daughters gather? We will get to that. Perhaps you already know, perhaps you will figure it out. At the end I will tell you. There are a few other things in these six verses of Isaiah we should talk about first.
What is darkness? You know, the electricity that comes into our houses is pretty reliable, but sometimes it does go out and sometimes even at night, when it is dark outside. Do you remember a time like that? You need a flashlight. Maybe you know where the flashlight is, but you have to get to the flashlight before you can turn it on. You walk carefully, trying to feel your way around so that you don’t run into something?
That is a spiritual picture of unbelief, except that the things people think will give light, the thing people reach for in the darkness is no flashlight, but only more darkness. The darkness in our world is thick. When people don’t realize the punishment that is coming because they disobey God, they are in darkness. When people don’t believe that Jesus has taken that punishment for them, they are also in darkness. Sadly, that description includes a lot of people. It includes not only those who follow Allah, Buddha, or Hinduism, but also those who trust that their own good deeds will get them to heaven and those who say they believe in God, but don’t come to hear his Word. They are still in darkness.
We were once in that darkness. We could not see our way out of the darkness, but the glory of the Lord rose upon us. The light of the Gospel came to us. You know, the better I understand what I should be the more I realize I need that Gospel. You and I are really not very good people. We are really more selfish and self-centered than we usually want to admit. But the glory of the Lord is this, that even though we deserve to live in darkness forever, he sent the light of his Son into the world. Jesus, the light of the world, was selfless to take away our selfishness. Jesus, dying for my sin and your sin, dying to make us holy, dying to make us perfect in the sight of God, that is the light that shows us how God loves us. That is the light that shows us that we have a sure and certain hope.
God saving us, that is the glory of the Lord that has risen upon you, and so Isaiah writes, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”
Isaiah says, “your light has come”. He calls it “your light” not because it originally came from inside of you, but because it was given to you from outside of you. It is God’s gift to you that now shines in you. The glory of the Lord shines in you and when you share the glory of Christ’s life and death for you, you attract others to the light of salvation. God tells us through Isaiah, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” For centuries now, people from all over have seen the light of the Gospel and have joined the gathering of believers.
But Isaiah was speaking about Israel and to Israel, wasn’t he? Yes, he was, but remember what God tells us in the New Testament, not all Israel is Israel, not all of the physical descendants of Abraham are a part of God’s people, but you are a child of Abraham and a part of Israel through faith.
As the light of the Gospel shines in the world, people are drawn to it – people from all nations come to hear what Jesus has done for them and become part of Israel. They are children of Abraham because they believe in God’s Savior just as he did. The doors have been opened – the gates flung wide. The Salvation that comes through the Jews is not only for the Jews, but for all nations. People from all nations come. Listen to how they come, “the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. 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.”
Does that remind you of anyone – gifts of gold and incense and proclaiming the Lord’s praise? The Magi! The Magi mentioned in our Gospel for today were among the first to come from the nations, worship the Savior and bring him gifts. They were attracted to the light of the glory of the Lord – not the star they followed from the East, but the forgiveness and salvation God was about to accomplish for them in Christ.
Who else comes from the nations bearing gifts? We do. We are not Jews. Our ancestors are somewhat mixed in their nationality. We come from a variety of nations, but we all come to the light that is Christ. So Isaiah writes, “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.” That includes us. We are the “sons come from afar” and the “daughters carried on the arm.”
We also come with gifts, perhaps not gold and incense, but we bring our wealth, our precious treasures. We bring hearts willing to serve our Savior. We bring our time devoted to him. And yes, we give back to him some of the material blessings he has given us.
At the beginning of this sermon I gave you my paraphrase of Isaiah’s words. I told you about the picture these words conjure up in my mind, about a woman who is, at first, in darkness. Who is this woman on whom the glory of the Lord rises, to whom sons and daughters gather? Simply, she is the church – the gathering of all believers throughout time.
It is through the glory of the Lord – Christ’s work of rescuing sinners – that the church is brought to life. The Gospel message of Christ dying for lost sinners is the light that shines through the church. That light draws believers from all around the world.
Since Isaiah is speaking to the church and about the church, you are the sons and daughters coming to the church and you are also the church to whom others come. You are the ones attracted by the light of glory of the Lord and you are also the one who shines with that light.
It is to you, then, that Isaiah says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” So arise! God has dispelled the darkness that covered you and has brought you to life in the church. And shine! Let others see the light of the Gospel in you so “nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”