Read the Isaiah 60 text here: Isaiah 60:1-9
How do we discern the light from the darkness?
There is an old story about a rabbi who enters into a discussion with his students. When, he asks them, can one know that the night has ended and the day begun? Is it that moment, suggests one student, when you can tell the difference between a sheep and a dog? No, said the rabbi, that isn't it. Is it, asks another, when you can tell the difference between an olive tree and a fig tree? Not that either, said the rabbi. Is it, asks a third student, when you can clearly see the sun in the sky. No, replied the rabbi. Rather, he told his puzzled students, it is that moment when you can look at a face never seen before and recognize the stranger as a brother or a sister. Until that moment, he added, no matter how bright the day, it is still night.
The festival of Epiphany is about light and darkness. It is a celebration of the light come into a world of darkness. It is easy to see the darkness. The darkness is all around us. It pervades our world. The darkness is can be overwhelming. For many the darkness in our world is oppressive and destructive. I'm talking about anything – attitudes, laws, edicts which deny another person his or her potential to be fully human. I'm referring to the fear and mistrust which we have towards those who are perceived as being different - those whose life-styles are unlike our own, those whose socio-economic status is at a different level than ours, those who are ill or hungry or imprisoned. We could go on and on - the darkness is easy to perceive and it is almost overwhelming.
But the darkness is not the last word. Darkness is not the end of the story. Arise, shine for your light has come………. (Isaiah 60). In the midst of the darkness a light shines eternally, never to be extinguished. This is the light of Christ; the light of the incarnation of God. And this light is a sign of hope, a sign of joy and a call to allow this light to shine forth brighter and brighter through us. May we all treasure the light - nurture the light - don't let the light go out in your lives, but build it up and allow it to shine forth as a beacon in the midst of the darkness.
An audio recording of my Epiphany sermon - "The Ultimate Gift" - can be found at http://wartburgparish.com/#/media