The Epiphany of Our Lord
January 7, 2018
“A Brilliant Light”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I don’t like this time of year. Too dark. For too long. You barely have any light by 7:15 in the morning and it is ready to hide again by 5:00 in the afternoon. Darkness plays with your mind, doesn’t it? I think more people get depressed at this time of the year – seasonal mood disorder – I think. See, we have a reason to be crabby – not enough light.
Yesterday, January 6, was the Epiphany. Today my message is about that day. Isaiah 60:2 says, “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples.” Darkness all around us and darkness deep inside us.
In preparation for our Stephen Ministry meetings I have been reading Max Lucado’s book, “Facing Your Giants”, a history of King David’s life. He tells about a man from Kentucky, Whit Criswell. Criswell was a banker, a city councilman, a school board member… and a gambler. Criswell hid his addiction to sports gambling for some time. But he lost more than he won and soon was in a debt of about $200,000.00 to his bookie. To pay off this debt he embezzled that money from the bank where he worked.
“It was only a matter of time until the auditors detected a problem and called for an appointment. Criswell knew he’d been caught. The night before the examination he couldn’t sleep. He resolved to take the path of Judas. Leaving his wife a suicide note, he drove outside of Lexington, parked the car, and put the gun to his head. He couldn’t pull the trigger, so he took a practice shot out the car window. He pressed the nose of the barrel back on his forehead and mumbled, ‘Go ahead and pull the trigger, you no-good slob. This is what you deserve.” (Pg. 40)
“Darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples.” Whit Criswell was filled with darkness and despair. There was no hope and no way out. He couldn’t see any future for himself or his honor and reputation. Darkness begins on the outside and it makes its way inside. In the previous chapter Isaiah says, “We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes.” (Isaiah 59:9b-10a) Jesus, in John 3 speaks about darkness like this, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
During our last sheltering week I transported some of our guests back to Englewood. On the way we had some small talk about the number of car dealerships along Broadway and what cars they liked or had driven. We were just about at Broadway and Belleview when I mentioned to Matthew, one of my passengers, about John Elway’s dealerships. I said something about him being the best quarterback that Denver had ever had. Matthew said to me, “I didn’t know John Elway played football.” What?? How could anyone not know that John Elway played football? I guess he had John Elway and Dealin’ Doug on the same level – both just selling cars.
Sometimes darkness comes just because of ignorance. Someone hasn’t been taught the difference between what is right and wrong. They had no one to guide them. They didn’t know. When Paul was in Athens in Acts 17 the worshipers had altars to a great many gods, but also one with the inscription, “To An Unknown God.” Their darkness was ignorance. Paul uses that opportunity to bring God’s brilliant light, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23c) He used that opportunity to talk about Jesus and His death and resurrection.
We were also given darkness, by others. Romans 5 talks about that inherited blindness, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12) That same author, Paul, would say the same in Corinthians, “For as in Adam all die…” (I Corinthians 15:22a) Darkness was given to us, with all of its curses, when the first sin of Adam and Eve darkened the world.
But, by far, the greatest disaster of darkness is our own choosing. Like Jesus says, “Men loved darkness rather than light.” In Moses’ final words to his people he says, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
God is not content to let His beloved children destroy themselves with darkness. Into darkness came light – God’s brilliant light. Whit Criswell had that gun to his head. But he didn’t pull the trigger. Thank God!! As dawn, as light appeared, he went home, a broken man. His wife had found the note and called the police. As he entered the house she embraced him. The police officers handcuffed him and led him away. He was both humiliated and liberated at the same time. He was humiliated to be handcuffed in front of family and friends; but he was liberated because he didn’t have to live a lie anymore.
He spent time in prison and when he was released he went back home, but no one would hire him. So they moved and began a new life in a new town. He volunteered at a church and eventually was ordained and became an associate pastor and then a senior pastor. The church he pastored became one of the fastest growing churches in Kentucky. His account is the account of what God’s brilliant light does in the life of people.
In Isaiah it says, “But the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy.” (Isaiah 60:2b-5a)
The Christmas star that led the Magi from the east to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem was God’s brilliant light leading them to God’s brilliant light – Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s brilliant light that changes the world and it changes us. Epiphany means manifestation or illumination. Jesus shines into our darkness. John 1: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Verse 4) John 8: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Verse 12) John 9: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (Verses 4-5)
If you trust in Jesus you have God’s brilliant light. If you do not trust Him, if you do not believe in Him, if He is not your Savior, if you do not follow Him, then all you have is darkness. But God wants you and the entire world – your family, your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your neighbors to know Jesus. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:17)
One of the neat things that happened here on Christmas Eve was the candle lighting at the end of the service. Here in the symbolism that is present – I take the light from the altar and give it to you and you share it with the person next to you. The first light is Christ, the Brilliant Light, and we are illumined by Him and we then reflect Him to others. It is like Jesus said, “You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14a-16)
This week I called a few of the folks that I hadn’t seen on Christmas Eve. She remarked that she wears oxygen and didn’t think it was wise to be around an open flame. She then told me about a former congregation that she attended that was in the middle of the candle lighting when the pastor was told to tell the congregation to extinguish their candles quickly and quietly leave the sanctuary because the building had a gas leak!! That would have been a memorable Christmas Eve!!
Epiphany is the Gentile’s Christmas, the Magi, the Gentiles, came to worship the Savior of all. A brilliant light led them to the light of the world – Jesus Christ. We have His light in our lives. What can we do as individuals and as a congregation to bring this brilliant light to others? I hope that many people come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ through your witness and mine, and the witness of this congregation in this New Year. I hope that through our teaching and caring and compassion folks that see no hope, or find themselves in dark and dreary situations, can see the brilliance of God’s light and love through us.
A brilliant light came to guide the Magi to Christ. Christ is God’s brilliant light that brings us salvation, eternal life and hope. And we, we are a brilliant light to a world that needs our love and God’s grace. Amen!!