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Rise and Shine

December 28, 2020

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 60: 1-2, emphasis added).

One thing that I inherited from my parents is being a morning person.  On the rare occasions when my mother needed to encourage me to get out of bed, she would say “Rise and shine”—a practice that I continued with our kids.  Once out of bed, my father sometimes greeted me with “Morning glory,” which probably explains my fondness for morning glory flowers. They are a rich purple color—the color of royalty—and they open with the first morning light. Morning glories exhibit “the glory of the Lord.”

 This week’s blog is based on the texts for Epiphany, January 6th, instead of the texts for Sunday, January 3rd.[1]  The Old Testament Scripture for Epiphany begins with both of my parents’ morning greetings: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (Isaiah 60: 1, emphasis added).  Isaiah was the only Old Testament prophet to use metaphors of light repeatedly.  In referring to the rising sun, he gave the people hope, which was in short supply at the time. F. F. Bruce points out that Isaiah’s promise was a stark contrast to the situation in the late 7th century B.C., a dark time in Jewish history.  The country was poverty-stricken and politically helpless, controlled by the powerful Medo-Persian empire.[2]  This beautiful poem described the future glories of Jerusalem. It foreshadowed who was to come—Jesus Christ.  Scripture often refers to Jesus in terms of the dawn, the first light at sunrise.  Jesus is the light who would come to give the people hope in a dark world. 

Solomon also looked forward to the never-ending reign of the Messiah when kings and all nations will worship him: “May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him” (Psalm 72: 10-11).

The Old Testament texts came to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ. The gospel text describes the dawning of the long-awaited light when the Magi visited Jesus. They recognized him as the King of the Jews, brought tributes to him, and worshipped him: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh”(Matthew 2: 11). The Magi were the first Gentile worshippers of Jesus.  As we noted a few weeks ago, the issue of whether the Jewish Messiah came to save Gentiles, and whether Gentiles would have to follow Jewish laws such as circumcision, continued in the church during the first century A.D. But we see in Matthew that even when he was a toddler, Jesus attracted Gentile believers.

Paul, the “Apostle to the Gentiles” continues his message that the gospel is open to Gentiles: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3: 6).  It seems to us that Paul is playing a broken record by continually repeating that the gospel is for Gentiles as well as for Jews.  But for the nineteen centuries between the time of Abraham and the time of Christ, the Israelites believed that the Jewish Messiah was for the Jewish people alone.  And during his lifetime, even Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15: 24).  The recognition that Jesus had been sent for all people occurred several years after the Resurrection, when the apostles began seeing the Holy Spirit working among the Gentiles.[3]  The reason for Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was still an issue that bore repetition in the first century.

Many of us feel that we are living in dark times for a variety of reasons—including the fact that COVID-19 shut down our society as we know it for almost a year. For months we have been waiting for the dawn of a new day. As we begin this Epiphany season and a new year—we are hopeful that with the approval of the new vaccines, we will turn the corner on COVID-19.  We are hopeful that the worst is behind us and that we are embarking upon a new dawn. An epiphany is a sudden insight into the meaning of something—a light bulb switches on in our brains and we suddenly see the light. This is a good time for an epiphany–to remember that Christ is the light of the world who came to earth as a human being to live a life for us to imitate, and to save us from our sins for all eternity.  

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is Jesus Christ. Follow the light. Follow Jesus Christ.

Prayer: “Father, you revealed your Son to the nations by the guidance of a star. Lead us to your glory in heaven by the light of faith.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen”  (For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and By the Church, Vol. III).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scriptures for Epiphany are: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12.

[2] F.F. Bruce, The International Bible Commentary (1979) Zondervan, p.760.

[3] Peter baptized the Roman centurion, Cornelius, in about 40 A.D. at Caesarea Maritima, approximately eight years after the Resurrection. 

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