The Epiphany of our Lord January 6-7, 2024
“The Darkest Dark; the Greatest Light” Matthew 2:1-12
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Just a few days before Christmas darkness took over the minds and hearts and souls of quite a few folks in Colorado Springs. Apparently, a mother, in a custody battle concerning her children with her ex-husband, murdered 2 of her kids, 7 and 9, and injured the 11-year-old. How terribly dark.
Do you know what happened at that moment? Darkness set in for a whole bunch of folks that day. Classmates of those children, and neighbors of that family, have a grief that pains them deeply. The father of those children will never be the same. Grandmas and grandpas? Inconsolable. The list of those infected by this darkness is large. The officers who came to the scene of this crime; the paramedics who came to offer help; those in the hospital who had to witness death and suffering – all have a memory they would like to erase.
That is what darkness does. Today we speak about the Epiphany – the coming of the star, the light that led the Gentiles to the Christ child. Epiphany – meaning manifestation, a revealing. I’m going to speak about that light but first you must see how dark darkness can be.
But I bet you know about that already. You’ve seen it in life. You have lived with pain or loss. Someone has robbed you of joy and has left you disappointed and empty. Without doubt – you have battled darkness in your own soul.
Our account of the visit of the Magi is known by most of you. It starts out with a great deal of excitement. “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’” (Matthew 2:1-2) Then this is the reaction – “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.” (2:3) Why was all Jerusalem disturbed and upset about news of a king being born? Herod would not take this well. Just three years before this he had two of his own sons murdered. A few years before that he had their mother, his very wife, murdered, as well. He had been king for 35 years by then, and he had just turned 70. He wasn’t going to lose his throne to some of his boys, or to his wife, and certainly not to a baby!! Darkness can live in one person, but it doesn’t just stay with one person – its’ poison flows into other lives, as well. “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” They were terrified about what he would do.
What Herod did was evil. He killed babies. Just like that Colorado Springs mother may have done to her children. The Magi were told to return to Herod and report about the child they had seen. But they didn’t. They returned home by another route. They escaped. We read, “When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” (Matthew 2:16) Sin is darkness. It is the work of the devil. It brings unspeakable grief.
But Christ comes and He brings light into darkness. The very first thing that God created in Genesis 1 was light. “And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated light from darkness.” (Genesis 1:3-4) In John 1 we read about Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5) Jesus, speaking about who is He and what He brings says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Whenever we sin we find ourselves in the dark. We have stepped away from God’s path, we have not followed His word, we have made our own way. And pretty soon we know that we are lost. We are in the dark and we don’t even have a flashlight. But as dark as dark is, the light of Jesus is even greater. “For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:8-11)
I guess it is fitting to show that Jesus was not just a Jewish king but the Savior of all – Jews and Gentiles – or as Simeon speaks about Jesus is his song, “A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”, that God chose a light, a star, to lead the Magi. This star that had appeared to them months before, now reappeared, “The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9-10) A light brought them to the light of the world. Earlier in this service we read Isaiah 60, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples, 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.” (Verses 1-3)
Darkness never stays self-contained but impacts others in horrid ways. But God’s light impacts us and others in powerful ways. Jesus is your light. You’re forgiven of darkness by His blood. Due to Jesus you will not go to the place of darkness after your death but the place of unending light. The best thing about this light – it is for everyone. Epiphany is the Gentile’s Christmas – meaning that all people are blessed by the king of the Jews – Jesus. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
What is the purpose of this church’s existence? Our purpose, as mentioned in our mission statement just outside my office, is “To seek and make new disciples.” Many people don’t know Jesus. Many people are not followers of Jesus. Many people are not saved. Too many walk in darkness and do not have the light of Jesus in their lives. Our purpose is “to seek and make new disciples.” Jesus is the greatest light. By a simple faith in the work of Jesus anyone can have eternal life. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We, as a congregation, and we as individuals, point others to Jesus – the light in the darkness.
Paul, addressing believers, speaks about our hope, our purpose, and our mission: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (II Corinthians 5:17-20)
Isn’t that exciting? God can use you for the eternal good of others. You can speak and live the love of God to others. But sometimes we don’t know how God can use us for such good. This past week I have begun writing my annual pastoral report to you. Lots of numbers are coming together. How many folks are part of this church? How many came on a weekend? And now – how many folks watch us on-line. Over 11,000 views of the sermon preached. and some of the music played, were recorded in 2023. On average that is over 200 views every week. In 2020 we didn’t begin the year thinking we would be on the Internet and YouTube, but the COVID outbreak happened and we found ourselves on-line. For some time people couldn’t come here – so we went there. We got to bring light, the true light, Jesus Christ to this world. Remember – our purpose is to seek and to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. In person and also on-line.
You know how dark dark can be. But, more importantly, you know how brilliant light can be. You know that Jesus shines with His love and His Spirit and His word. I’m glad you know it. By your words and through your life tell that truth to others. Amen!!