Eastside Glows in the Dark!
No one has ever accused me of being a morning person. I’m certainly not a good example of the ideal person to meet first thing in the morning. But I also know that i’m not the worst. If you’re like me, you know that people with cheery voices and smiling faces might be slightly irritating in the early morning. I’m certainly not bouncing out of bed when someone yells, “Rise and shine! It’s morning! Now I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with people who are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning. But can’t you see the similarities in how Isaiah begins his words to us this morning? Today, we are celebrating the Festival of Epiphany, a day when Jesus is revealed not only as the Savior of the Jews, but the Savior of the whole world! This morning, let’s listen to Isaiah as he describes the work that Jesus would do in our hearts. For it’s Jesus who causes Eastside to Glow in the Dark. Imagine yourself stranded on a deserted island—alone. It’s a cloudy night. There’s not a star in the sky. You have no supplies, no fire, no light. It’s as dark as it can get. And you know what it’s like when there’s no light. The noises are amplified, every sound has you on edge. O, for just a little bit of light! And if you saw that light, imagine the excitement you would feel! That’s Isaiah excitement as he begins this morning: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is dawning upon you. Look, the darkness covers the earth, and deep darkness covers the peoples, but the Lord will dawn upon you, and his glory will be seen over you.” Throughout the Bible, God is described as Light. And conversely, being separated from God is described as darkness. The people of Isaiah’s day were experiencing the darkness of God’s absence because they had rejected him. They had rejected his presence. They had turned to idols. They had chosen the darkness. Isaiah warns the people that because they had rejected God, they would be carried off into captivity in Babylon. But it was more than that. Their captivity was a picture of the more tragic captivity in which Satan held the people. Every single person, including you and me, experience that captivity by nature. Every single one of us is on that dark island, deserted, alone, lost, with no light at all. But that’s why Isaiah’s song is such a joyful song. For we didn’t go out and find the light, but rather the light found us! “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is dawning upon you. Look, the darkness covers the earth, and deep darkness covers the peoples, but the Lord will dawn upon you, and his glory will be seen over you.” That glory of the Lord that will be seen over is is the same glory we heard about on Christmas morning. “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. We have seen his glory, the glory he has as the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. The light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” No amount of darkness, not even the thickest darkness that Satan can throw at us can overcome the light of Christ. The light is shining here at Eastside because Christ is present in his Word and Sacraments. And that light causes Eastside to Glow in the Dark! But light does more than just cause Eastside to Glow, it causes us to grow! “Nations will walk to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Look up. Look all around and see! All of them are gathered. They come to you. Your sons will come from far away, and your daughters will be carried on the hip.” People who once sat in darkness know the thrill of finally seeing the light of the rescuer. And because of that, every believer has cause to truly celebrate at Christmas—for that is when the Light came into our dark world. But according to Isaiah, there is an added thrill in store for believers. That thrill will come from the joy of seeing the excitement of others who are rescued from darkness by the Light. That’s why today is sometimes called the “Gentile Christmas.” The Light of the Savior is for all! Nations coming to the light, just as we already heard in our Epiphany Gospel this morning. Wise Men, Gentiles, coming from far away. There are no ifs, ands, or buts connected to this Gospel message. “A Savior has been born to you,” is a message for all people. No matter who you are, Jesus is your Savior from sin! And that’s what gives the motivation to us as we Glow at Eastside. We’re glowing with the Light of Christ and so we go with that Light, we tell of his love. And Isaiah tells us that as we do that, we will have the pleasure of seeing God’s promises fulfilled. “Nations will walk to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Just like a plant that has the proper soil, water, temperature and sunlight will grow, so the Light of the world causes his Church to grow. And how does it grow? It grows through the means of grace. It grows through Word and Sacrament. Isaiah wrote just a few chapters earlier. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” What a joy it is for us to be able to watch as Christ’s Church grows both at home and around the world. And you know what, there’s one more thing that Light can do, one more thing that the Light of Christ can do here at Eastside. Isaiah writes: “Then you will look and be radiant. Your heart will race with excitement and burst with joy. For the great riches of the sea will be delivered to you. The wealth of the nations will come to you. Caravans of camels will cover your land,young camels from Midian and Ephah. All of them from Sheba will come. They will carry gold and incense, and they will announce the good news of the Lord’s praises.” God promises that where and when his Light shines, where and when his Word is preached, where and when his sacraments are administered, it will not only leave people believing. When people believe in the Light of the Word, they are going to act on that belief. What is it that makes your heart race with excitement? Watching the Badgers or the Packers pull out the close victory? Closing the deal at work? For the Christian, isn’t it what Paul tells the Thessalonians: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” There is nothing that will put God’s people into action in the Kingdom faster or better than seeing firsthand the fruit of their labors. And that puts us in some very familiar territory. We love to see the fruits of God’s work in our midst. We love to hear about the Baptisms and confirmations. We love to hear about the growth in our school. The ministry here at Eastside is blessed like many others have not experienced! So why is that? Why are we blessed with growth and blessings when others aren’t? Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but it’s not because the people of Eastside are better than anyone else. It’s not because we’re smarter, or more sanctified, or better Christians. It’s only because of God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit is at work in our midst. We see it at every baptism. We see it with every morning devotion, every Wednesday chapel, every weekend worship service. God’s Spirit is alive and well at Eastside. But that doesn’t mean that the darkness doesn’t affect us any longer. We still see sin’s effect on our ministry. Worship attendance is down. It’s the people doing all of the work. We struggle to fill all the spots on our boards and councils. And when I say this, please don’t think I’m complaining. It’s simply to illustrate that there’s plenty of work left here to do. And so I pray that all of us will continue to grow closer together in our resolve to carry out God’s work in our midst. But to do that we need to keep clear what GOd’s work really is. It’s not merely adding new members or increasing enrollment. It’s not merely meeting our budget or annual goals. It is seeing the Light of the world that God sent and reflecting that light, glowing for anyone and everyone we meet. It’s making disciples by baptizing and teaching. It’s financially supporting the work both here, and in places we can’t go. It’s striving to be one in faith so that the unity can strengthen the resolve to be God’s faithful servants. Eastside Glows in the Dark! May we be a beacon of light in our dark world! May the Holy Spirit set our hearts on fire so that many more might be brought out of the darkness, that they too may announce the good news of the Lord’s praises. AMEN