Did you enjoy the sunshine this weekend? It was pretty nice, wasn’t it? It’s amazing how something so often taken for granted can be missed. Then, when it appears, it leads to the greatest of delights. Sunlight triggers the body’s process for producing vitamin-D. Vitamin-D strengthens bones and keeps the immune system strong. Sunlight also creates serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mood. That’s why you feel giddy and active when the sun shines. If you do not get enough sunlight, another chemical (called ‘melatonin’) can become imbalanced. So, extended darkness can make you lazy. You may have little interest in your hobbies. You can oversleep or sleep longer than usual. You might even struggle with feeling melancholy. Some studies even suggest that sunlight can reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack. Supposedly the sunlight stimulates a molecule that opens up blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dangers-winter-darkness-weak-bones-depression-and-heart-trouble-180953611/).
What a difference light makes! That’s why some visit tanning salons in the winter; they soak in much-needed light. Europe offers phototherapy sessions where people can get a dosage of light. Sunlight is one reason so many people flock south during the winter. When we get sunshine like we did this past weekend, you pull a chair up in front of the window and sit in those beaming rays as long as you can. Sunlight has powerful effects on the human body.
So, is it any wonder then, that God compares the effect of his Son to the effects light has on us? Living in darkness only harms us. God does not want you lost in darkness. So, he reveals Jesus, the Light. He lifts you out of darkness. His work shines through you. Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come!
We need light. We need light because of what Isaiah says in [Isaiah 60] verse 2: For behold, darkness [covers] the earth and deep darkness the peoples… Isaiah uses a word picture here. ‘Darkness’ describes a way of living— and that way is ‘ignorance.’ You are ignorant if you lack knowledge. ‘Darkness’ covers you when you are unaware of a truth or event. You behavior fails to know (1) how to respond or (2) act in a given situation.
“Ignorance” will not cover the earth one day in the future; it actually covers the earth now. Isaiah literally says: [D]arkness will covers the earth and deep darkness the peoples… For many, Christmas was a celebration of presents— presents probably forgotten by now. (Do you still remember everything you received? Those presents are not as valuable as you had hoped, are they?) You watch children curse and swear, scream and throw tantrums because many parents refuse to take seriously God’s instruction to raise this child (read Ephesians 6:1-4). Men and women cross boundaries because they do not take God’s gift of marriage seriously. The helpless are ignored when leaders only seek to serve themselves and not their neighbor (read Matthew 22:39). Survivors insist that funerals be celebrations— no, not celebrating Christ’s saving work for this loved one, but rather a celebration of this person’s human achievements, achievements soon forgotten. You see, life is ‘dark’ when we live unaware of a truth or event. That ‘truth’ would be God’s Word for our lives. Without that Word, we fail to conduct ourselves in line with God’s expectations.
But these things promise so much joy, don’t they? The joy we manufacture numbs hurt and heartache for a moment! Letting your kids do whatever they want prevents you from the unpleasant task of work; you can spend more time relaxing! Flirting with adultery offers a flimsy promise of uncommitted satisfaction! Defending your goals at any cost strokes the ego even more! What’s so bad about this darkness? Life without God interfering appears better! You can do what you want, when you want, for whatever reason you want— and it makes you happy!
“That’s darkness!” Isaiah says. And not just any darkness, but thick darkness. Ever keep the lights off when you went down into the basement? Not a good idea, right? You stumble down the steps. You walk into a shelf or kick a box. Your arms reach; your fingers grope for something familiar. Darkness makes you frustrated; you get frustrated that you keep getting hurt and cannot see how to avoid that hurt.
Thick darkness is life without Jesus. Life gets frustrating. Life becomes miserable because you keep encountering hurt and cannot see how to avoid that hurt. It might have felt good defending your selfishness, but it led to some undisciplined children holding a grudge against you. It might have felt good to flirt with temptation, but you still do not have commitment— and you hurt because you neglect real commitment in marriage. It might have felt good to worship presents and family, but the family has left, your presents are forgotten, and you realize your manufactured joy does not really satisfy you. It might have felt good to celebrate life with funny stories, but those stories will never wipe away the fear of not being good enough for God.
Living in darkness harms us. It blocks out God. You do not see Jesus as the One who heals. You do not see Jesus as the One who brings life. You fail to see him at all. The worst part of darkness is when you are so blind that you do not see how lost you truly are.
We need light— and God provides it. Arise, Shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. And it has. On a dark Bethlehem night, the Light of the world is born. When you see this baby, you see God’s glory, God’s holiness. That light shines on you (and me). Compare yourself to the Holy Son of God and you see every flaw, every fault, every crooked decision. Nothing is hidden. Every dark deed stands out… and Jesus sees it all. He sees it so that he might grab it and carry it away.
That’s why Isaiah sings: Arise! Shine! Two commands for a new action to begin. You shake the sleeping teenager: “Wake up!” Why? Because he is not awake. He needs to start a new action. God says, “Arise! Do not lie crushed and broken. Do not carry the weight of guilt by yourself. Stand up because Jesus has removed it!” Then “Shine! Do not mope around! Let your dread tumble away.” Why? Because of God’s clear Word: You are forgiven!”
Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come! Rejoice and be glad! The Savior has been born! [T]he glory of the Lord has risen upon you… and you have seen it. Jesus lifts you out of darkness. See Jesus and you gain a clear understanding on where you are heading in life. Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come! Jesus’ work shines through you.
How can it not? The sun always has an effect. For starters, sunlight is the opposite of darkness; light illuminates the world. Isaiah says, [N]ations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. The good news of Jesus is not locked away. God chooses to reveal Jesus to the world— and that includes you (and me). You (and I) can see Jesus when we spend time in God’s Word, the Bible. You (and I) see how Jesus comforts us when reading devotions. You (and I) see who Jesus is when we study in Bible Class. You (and I) see Jesus guide our path when we think about what we hear today later on this week. Sunlight clears away the unknown. Spend time with Jesus the Light, and you know more about your Savior.
Spend time in sunlight and your mood brightens. Spend time in the Light, and your heart swells. If you are feeling gloomy, hopeless and in despair, do not search for dark, ignorant advice of the world. Turn to Jesus. See the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. Grasp Jesus’ promise that believers who die in faith are in heaven (John 11:25-26). If you feel so small and insignificant, see how Jesus cares for you more than he does measly little birds (Matthew 6:25-34). If you feel forgotten and alone, listen to Jesus promise: I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). When the good news of Jesus enters your heart, you will shine. The Word clears away the unknown and cheers you. Your cheer will produce actions. Jesus’ work shines through you.
Isaiah knew this would happen. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord. Isaiah pictures droves streaming into Jerusalem. Do you know what happens next? Jerusalem falls. It lies in ruins for 70-years. A little group returns. Then the Romans rule it. No kings stream there. No magnificent gifts arrive. In fact, much of the region is forgotten.
You see, Isaiah’s prophecy is not one of immediate fulfillment— when promised events happen instantly and completely. He is looking ahead into the distant future— ahead to the birth of Jesus, ahead to the time when the Wise Men see Jesus, ahead to the disciples carrying the good news of Jesus around the world, to today; Isaiah see you (and me) gathering around the Word.
You are those people bringing good gifts to your King. You see a Savior—and it puts the rest of life into perspective. Your goal is not gathering the most stuff and most adventures for this life. Your goal is heaven— and you see that clearly when you see Jesus. Your life will be a reflection of that goal. Nonbelievers may see your Christian life and come to praise God (Matthew 5:16). Your gifts of gold are not hoarded for yourself, but freely given to support your ministry. You use your special abilities as best as you can—and this praises the Lord. Arise! Shine! because your gloom is removed! Your Light has Come! That light hits you; Jesus’ work shines through you.
What effect light has on the human body! No wonder God compares the effect of his Son to the effects light has on us! In Jesus you find a Savior who lifts you out of darkness. If you stand in the light, you will naturally produce good results. Your body automatically produces Vitamin-D and serotonin and keeps your melatonin in check. Time with Jesus shapes your hope, your generosity, and your words. Jesus’ work shines through you.
Take in the Light this Epiphany season. Let the good news of Jesus swell in your heart. Arise! Shine! Your Light has Come!