Arise, Your Light Has Come – Jan. 5, 2020

Arise, Your Light Has Come

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Isaiah 60:1-6

Matthew 2:1-12

January 5, 2020

Main Idea:  God illuminates us.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today is the first Sunday of the new year, the first Sunday of a new decade and the future lays open before us like a blank page in a brand new journal, like an expanse of snow covered meadow. 2020 will be a year of challenges and opportunities.  We are both excited and worried about what is to come.   This month we will implement our change in church governance from our 4 boards and many committees to a Unified Governing Board and Ministry Teams.  How will it work?  We honestly don’t know for sure but we hope that it will make our ministries together more vital and responsive to the needs around us.   Right before Christmas we learned that the YMCA Childcare program would be moving out of our building.  What will we do with that space?  Honestly, we don’t know for sure but we hope that we will partner with another program that fulfills an important community need.   In our wider communities there are many questions about the future.  Who will be the next Burlington Police Chief?  How will the plastic bag ban and composting laws work?   What will happen with Iran? Who will win the 2020 election? When will Australia stop burning?  With these issues and many more looming before us, it is understandable that we feel overwhelmed. How do we move forward?  How do we choose the right course?  Epiphany Sunday gives us the answer.  As we move into the future we are called to follow the light.

In the past on Epiphany Sunday I have preached about the story of the Magi but today we will start with the prophet Isaiah.  His vision and call to the people speaks to us as we ponder our future, and search for God’s light.

Chapters 56 – 66 of the book of Isaiah were written by a prophet scholars call Third Isaiah. The first 39 chapters of the book are known as First Isaiah and were written in Jerusalem before Israel and Judah were overrun by the Babylonian Empire.  Chapters 40-55 are known as the work of Second Isaiah.  This prophet preached to the exiles in Babylon and proclaimed a vision of their restoration in Jerusalem.  In the year 539 BCE Babylon fell to the armies of Cyrus of Persia and the following year the exiles were allowed to go home. But life back in Jerusalem was not what the people had expected. There was no new kingdom.  There was no restoration of what they had lost. Third Isaiah spoke to a people who were despondent.  Life was hard. The community was divided.  Hope was in very short supply. In chapter 59, Isaiah describes the people’s despair.  “we walk in gloom… we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among the vigorous as though we were dead.(Is. 59:9,10).  The people’s vision and ability was limited to just stumbling along. But into their gloom, Isaiah proclaimed God’s light.  They were called to to look up and look around.  They must get up, arise and shine themselves.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”(Is. 60:1)  When people are grieving, despondent, or fearful, they look down, they physically turn inward. Their energy fails. Their circle of concern shrinks. Their ability to imagine new ideas falter.  Isaiah challenged his people and us to get up! and to recognize God with us.  In Jewish thought, the glory of the LORD is the presence of God.  When the people rise, they can reflect the glory of the presence of God with them. Isaiah acknowledged that circumstances were hard but the people will not see and recognize God without looking up and realizing that God has been with them all along. 

“Arise, shine…. Lift up your eyes and look around”(Is. 60:1,4). Isaiah challenges us to see beyond our worries and immediate concerns to God’s wider and bigger plan.  Not only is God with us but God’s glory and presence will bring change to the world.  Those who are in exile will be brought home. Those who are estranged will be reconciled. Families will be reunited. Children will be safe.    And we, ourselves will shine with God’s glory and presence.  Isaiah tells us, “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.” (Is.60:5a)  or as the Jewish translation goes,  “As you behold, you will glow; Your heart will throb and thrill” because all of the world will be drawn to God’s glory. 

Very nice image Karen, you may say, but that is not the world we see today.  This was not the reality of 3rd Isaiah’s time either.  But here is the truth Third Isaiah proclaims and that we also claim.  God is at work in the world. And we can see flickers of God wherever there are people of good will. Flickers of light, flickers of hope gathering together.  People of faith, all faiths, working together to bring about God’s peace, justice and abundant life.  “This poem [of Third Isaiah] calls the church and the synagogue to use our imagination to see what is not yet true and to act as though it already were true. In spite of the world’s indifference to it, we can arise and shine, acting under the assumption that God is still at work through both church and synagogue, offering light, healing, and reconciliation to the world.”  (Charles Aaron, FOTW Year A Vol 1, p. 199)  We are partners with God and our work shines with the reflection of God’s glory.

This brings us to the Magi and the Christmas story.  These Persian astronomers followed an unusual flicker in the night sky to the Christ child.    They looked up and rose up and traveled, following the light wherever it would lead them. They were not deterred by the long trip nor by the machinations of King Herod.  They were not discouraged by taking wrong turns or finding the child in a small house instead of a palace.  “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy” (Matt 2:10).

As we look to the future we can be sure of God’s presence and glory with us; guiding and empowering us, if we but look up and rise up and shine. At times it may be a flicker and other times a large beacon but it will always be with us. May we move through 2020 and all the years to come with hope and joy and confidence.

Let us pray,

God of glory and light, we praise you for your constancy and unlimited grace.  Thank you for revealing yourself to us through the Christ child.  Thank you for Isaiah who speaks to our worries and fears.  Thank you for the Magi as models of daring commitment.  Be with us today and always.  Empower us to serve you in manifesting your vision for creation. 

Let us now arise and shine as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Our hymn of preparation is # 231 Arise, Your Light Is Come.