Happy new year to everyone! This past Saturday, while I was home on a little vacation, we took our Christmas tree down to make room for the Epiphany open house we host each year. But our lights outside are still up and will be for at least another week. Some strings, wrapped around trees in our yard, stay up all year even though we don’t turn them on.
A few years ago it seemed like we were almost the only house in our neighborhood with Christmas lights, but there seem to have been a few more this year than in the past. There is something cheering and heartening about coming home in the dark (which is anytime after 4:30 or so here in Oregon in midwinter) and seeing all those lights ablaze in the darkness.
Unless you spend a lot of time out in the wilderness or in developing countries, it may be hard to imagine Isaiah’s situation as he wrote our text for this Sunday, Isaiah 60:1-6, in a world without electric lighting of any sort, much less gaudy displays of Christmas lights. As he declares, “Arise, shine…!” he can only have in mind candles, oil lamps and such shining in the “thick darkness” over the earth and its peoples in verse 2.
The light with which God’s people are called by Isaiah to shine is a borrowed light. As the rest of verse 2 says, “the Lord will arise upon you; and his glory will appear over you.” It’s to that light shining in and through God’s people that nations and kings will come in verse 3.
Christians understood those prophetic words to be about the glory of God appearing in Jesus Christ. The kings of other nations who would come to the light evoked the visit of the magi in Matthew 2, which we also read this Sunday. In fact an important day in the church year, Epiphany on January 6, is all about the shining forth of God’s glory in Jesus. Isaiah’s text helps remind us that His light is meant not only to shine upon us but through us in the dark.
In many ways, these seem like dark times. For the first time since my childhood, nuclear war seems again a live possibility for our world. Our nation is deeply divided, not only politically, but by a constantly widening gap between those who are wealthy and those who are not. Yet again in the history of our faith, Christians themselves are divided from each other, over seemingly irreconcilable differences in politics and morality. We are meant to be a mirror reflecting our Lord’s light, but further splits in the already thoroughly splintered reflection seem inevitable.
Yet, for all that, Isaiah calls us to arise and shine. And I believe we can. It is always God’s light, not ours. Perhaps our own inability to reflect or even perceive His light very well will make it more apparent that is truly He who shines in the darkness around us. Let us remember John 1:5, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”