ARISE AND SHINE! Isaiah 60:1-6 January 4, 2009 Epiphany Sunday 1 "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 "Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. 5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. 6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. INTRODUCTION I do hope that you and yours had a most meaningful and enjoyable Christmas! And I also hope you concluded it with the attitude of a little girl named Natasha who was asked by her grandmother, “Natasha, did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?” She thought for a moment, then responded, ―No, Grandma, I didn’t—but then again, it wasn’t my birthday.‖ This morning, as we have crossed over the threshold into this new year of 2009, I would like for us to ponder the words of the Old Testament text for this Epiphany Sunday: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” After passing through a most tumultuous year of 2008, I cannot think of a more fitting passage for us to focus our hearts upon as we begin a new chapter in the annals of time. I. ARISE AND SHINE! – A CALL TO HOPE Some things you just never forget. In my early morning stupor would come the sound of steps creaking on the staircase leading up to my room. Then the squealing of the door hinges as it slowly opened and a cheerful, gentle voice proclaiming “Rise and shine! Breakfast is almost ready!” It’s funny how I can still hear my mother’s voice as clearly today as I could 40 years ago. Then, after doing a tap dance on the cold, hardwood floor as I hopped into my blue jeans, I would be led downstairs by the aroma of bacon frying on the kitchen stove. Another day, a day filled with adventures and opportunities and life for a young boy had begun! “Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” These words were a similar call to hope to the faithful remnant of Israel. Isaiah proclaimed that a new day was dawning for God’s people, who had been exiled for nearly 50 years in Babylon. In 538 B.C., King Cyrus of Persia had defeated the Babylonians, and subsequently ordered that the Israelite captives be released. And now they were returning to Jerusalem, to home, to a new day filled with promise and hope. But mingled with this hope was a heavy dose of cold- faced reality: The returning exiles found the city of Jerusalem in ruins. Their Temple and their homes had been totally destroyed and left to rot by the plundering Babylonian army. The city walls were reduced to rubble. Over the ensuing years these proud people would have to scrape out a meager existence from what few crops and goods were available. They would have to deal with rampant inflation and bitter disputes among their governmental and religious leaders. Poverty, disease, death would shroud their daily existence. Permeating this misery, though, was the abiding hope that God had not and would not abandon them. “Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” They clung tightly to the belief that where God is, there are light and life and hope for the future. And slowly, but surely, they began to rebuild their ravaged lives and their ravaged nation. Dave Dravecky, former pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, was enjoying a Hall of Fame career until the day he was diagnosed with a soft tissue cancer in his left arm. His professional baseball career was soon over. After various treatments failed to stop the cancer, doctors advised Dave to have his left arm amputated. As Dave awaited the surgery, he was quite afraid. He felt all alone. He also was concerned about his children and how they would deal with the disfigurement of his new appearance. Would they be scared or upset? Would they want anything to do with him? A devout Christian, Dave poured out his fears to his Lord. He prayed for light in the midst of that overwhelming darkness. The surgery went well. Two days later, Dravecky’s young son Jonathan was the first to see him. Not only was Jonathan not put off by his father’s new appearance, he wanted all his friends to see his dad. These young boys saw the stump and the scars and the sutures as being totally cool. Next, the Dravecky’s little daughter, Tiffany, came in. She went straight to her father and gave him a big hug. Then, she announced she was so happy his left arm was gone. Over the last several weeks, the arm had caused Dave so much pain he had not been able to hug his little girl. With that arm out of the way, Tiffany could hug her daddy again. Dave experienced the light of God’s love through his children during that awful ordeal. And that light gave him the hope he needed to begin a totally new career and life. As we begin this new year, many of you are seeking to rebuild your lives in the midst of the rubble of disease and struggle and hardship and pain. The year ahead seems very uncertain and foreboding. The word of the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel is the same word of God spoken specifically to you: “Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” Like Dave Dravecky, you too can fight back and persevere for God’s light upon your life will never be extinguished. He will see you through! II. ARISE AND SHINE! - GOD’S CALL TO ACTION Yes, some things you just never forget. As a teenager, on occasion, in my early morning stupor, would come the sound of footsteps stomping on the staircase leading up to my room. The entire room would vibrate, as if Godzilla was approaching. Then the door to my room would fly open with a crash and a quite irritated voice would proclaim, “I told you ten minutes ago—„Rise and shine!‟ Now!!” And if I, in my dimwitted sleepiness, would unknowingly utter some word of profanity or disrespect, my father (who was a rather large man) would simply roll my lifeless body out of bed onto the hard, cold floor. My father never placed a curfew on me at night. He simply told me that I had always better be ready to get up and get going on time in the morning, be it to school, to work, or to church. And whenever I heard his booming voice in the wee hours of the dawn, I knew it was already high to take action and get in gear for the new day. Or else he would get me in gear! “Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” This is not only a call to hope for the Israelite people and to you and me, it is also a call to action. As God’s light has shone upon us, we are also called to shine this guiding and redeeming light upon others. The Israelite people did not want to hear this. They felt they had an exclusive relationship with the Lord. They wanted to build walls around their faith and lives and forget about the rest of the world. But God had a different plan for them. God was calling them to be a light unto all nations, illuminating his hope for others to embrace. And so it is with you and me. “Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” This is a command to each of us who would rather be passengers than deckhands on the ship of faith. It is a call to be actively involved in the lives of others, sharing the light of God’s hope. We live in a generation of people who are screaming for hope, and yet we as Christian folk are stuttering. We too want to build walls around our faith and lives, and shut out those who are different from us. And yet, God’s light does not discriminate, but rather seeks to eliminate the darkness in the lives of all persons. A professor of evangelism at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Art McPhee, once composed a very timely poem entitled “The Gospel According to You”: The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are read by more than a few, But the one that is most read and commented on is the gospel according to you. You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day, By the things that you do and the words that you say, Persons read what you write, whether faithless or true, Say, what is the gospel according to you? Do others read God‟s truth and love in your life? Or has yours been too full of malice and strife? Does your life speak of evil or does it ring true? Say, what is the gospel according to you? Jesus said that to “whom much is given, much is required.” In this year of 2009, we have the commission to take action, to be about the business of “shining”, of making sure the light of God’s love in our lives impacts those around us at work, at school and at home. There are persons all around us hurting and searching for hope. And we have the light of God’s hope revealed to us in Jesus Christ to offer them. CONCLUSION “Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” There is a scene in the movie Apollo 13 where astronaut Jim Lovell is asked if he was ever afraid. He said that he had been afraid many times but one time sticks out in his memory. He was returning from a combat mission and couldn’t find his aircraft carrier. It was dark, and because they were under combat conditions, the carrier didn’t have any lights on. His radio navigation equipment was of no use because they were under total radio silence to avoid enemy detection. In a last-ditch attempt to determine his location, he turned on his map light to see if he could calculate his position. Suddenly an electrical short caused all the lights to go out on his fighter jet. It was then that he saw it. In the darkness. There was a luminescent glow. It was the glow of sea plankton that is generated by the wake of a ship as it passes through the water. All he had to do was follow this glowing sea plankton, like a “highway” to the ship. Jim Lovell said, “You don‟t ever know what will transpire to lead you home. If the map light had not shorted out, I would never have seen the glowing wake.” Perhaps we at the beginning of this new year need to ask God to help us to turn off all the maplights in our lives-the sinful attitudes and actions that prevent us from beholding his guiding light upon us as we journey through each and every day-and to instead look for his light in our lives each day. He has given us an assuring call to hope and a commanding call to action: “Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” May we walk boldly into this year of 2009, embracing God’s light and shining this redeeming light upon all whom we meet! Amen!