Friday, January 4, 2013

Isaiah 60:1 - 11 Epiphany: Why Should We Rise and Shine?

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ
       Arise!  Shine!  Rise and shine.  Something a parent might say to a youngster on the first day of school.  Don’t just crawl out of bed, be ready to take hold of the day with joy and spirit.  Some folks do that well.  Others need to push themselves, especially during the let-down that often follows the holidays.  And to shine all day long with cheerfulness and zest for life, to take up our tasks without worrying, to address the various situations that come our way and without fretting – that takes willpower for most everyone.  Fortunately for us, we are Christians.  The Lord passes on to us from his abundant strength the ability to rise and shine.  And so we do shine – like stars, even when we fear that the grumpiness of the world has got the best of us.  Somebody once said to me that we are twinkles in the eye of eternity.  Jesus sees our shining when we ourselves do not.
       Let’s have a look at two or three reasons for our shining.
       First is the resilience that is common to human nature, but strengthened and sustained by our faith in the Lord. We don’t let the bad parts of life break us.  We fight back – from accidents, illness, setbacks.  Very few give up.  I remember the vitality of Christian people I’v  known. Some have set examples for me. They did not quit in times of adversity.  We all have down times, of course, but the Lord empowers us to rise up and keep on battling.  We cast off sluggishness.  It’s true that death and the grave come for us, but while our bodies wither, our spirits, thanks to Christ, move toward the gates that lead to the new, perfect life that Jesus has prepared for us.
       We rise and shine, in the second place, because there are people we love who depend on us and who love us in return.  We shine for the sake of the communities we belong to – family, work, friends, and especially the church. Some years ago, after the dreadful terrorist attacks in New York, the Queen spoke in her annual Christmas message about the troubles that had come upon us.  She said that our communities nourish us and we should pay attention to them and work to build them up.  How important it is to have encouraging people nearby and how much it means to our neighbors when we take time to offer moral support and lift them up.    Jesus blesses us greatly through his community – the church, which brings us his strength and his comfort – and numerous Christian friends.  Rising and shining, we lift each other up by the strength that God imparts to us.
       We shine out side the church, too, or to say it better, we bring the spirit of church with us wherever we go.  Jesus commands us to offer to others the rest and peace and fellowship of his kingdom.  How many of our neighbors struggle for faith?  How many of the young people we know crave courage, hope, and strength?  The Lord uses us and the community at St. Peter’s to help them.
       We have many failings, we’re shy to move out with our beliefs, we don’t like to try new things unless we see an immediate benefit. God is patient, though. He and his church think and act for the long term.  We may be too quiet, but we don’t give up and aren’t easily discouraged.  One project each of us might take on is to pick someone we know who doesn’t come to church now or appear to have a saving relationship with Jesus, an acquaintance or family member, befriend this person, listen to his or her joys and sorrows, pray, help carry the burden, and speak about the gospel in as winning a way as we can when the right moment comes.  God’s kingdom grows by face-to-face contact at the grassroots.  Maybe this person will even come with you to worship. Rise and shine for that person.  The point is to persist and not lose heart if we don’t see results right away.  The Lord gives us quiet but effective ways to pass on the good news about our walk with him: prayer, conversation, offering a shoulder to lean on, forgiveness, patience, strength in uncertain times.
       A third reason to rise and shine is Jesus himself, the light Isaiah foresaw would come, bringing God’s glory, the gospel of salvation, to rise upon us.
       Jesus rescued us from the nighttime of sin, death, and the devil.  He wipes away our sins and brings peace to our consciences.  Nothing can stand between us and his love.  He comforts us in days of loss and affliction.  He blesses us with hope.  This moment we live in is only a small segment of time, and one day all of time will be swallowed up in eternity and we will shine forever in the presence of our Lord.  The separated will be united.  There will be no struggle for material things, for God will shower his riches upon us.  Anguish and suffering will not exist.  All heaven will proclaim the name of the Lord.
        Jesus empowers us to rise and shine.  He blesses us with a spirit of endurance so that we may cope with gloomy mornings and freezing rain.  He comforts us if we lose a job or our health or a loved one.  He consoles us when we grieve for our sins, and he turns shame into rejoicing.  He frees us from bondage to things of earth.
       But there is a catch,  our human natures love to set up road blocks.  God works in a way that offends mortal flesh and that even you and struggle with from time to time.  Where our human minds prefer great and powerful and flashy things, he came to the earth in lowliness and humility.  When he was born in the manger, he didn’t attract the people who counted, only some shepherds and a few traveling wise men from an alien culture that most people looked down on.  The ones in power, the great and rich, wanted him out of the way.
       We can imagine that.  We know how people act. We know what goes on in our own thoughts.  How, then, can you and I expect to rise and shine in Christ more often than once or twice a year?   By the mercy and power of God, who makes it possible.  “I became a servant of the Gospel,” Paul wrote, “by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.”  We take hold of God’s treasure through the actions of the Holy Spirit, who enlivens our hearts with faith.  The Spirit draws us to the Gospel and we rise and shine at God’s offer of life, salvation, and strength.
       The Holy Spirit, not our own desires or thoughts, convinces us that Jesus is the light who enlightens everyone.  “Permit this light to lead and enlighten you,” Paul wrote.  Let Jesus be our guide.  He transforms people like ourselves, who don’t like change, in the most delightful way.  He turns us into light ourselves.  “You were formerly in darkness,” Paul said, “but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light.  In other words, we receive and believe the Holy Spirit.
       The great power God gives us is hard to understand.  We can scarcely grasp even the basic principles.  Even so, the Spirit lead us to trust by faith that Jesus sets us free from sin and death and strengthens us for life now.  Our understanding grows as we learn and study God’s Word.  The light of his glory fills us.  Earthly kinds of glory and the pride of our flesh and showy things that bedazzle for a while and then fade away – these do not deceive us.  By the power of the Spirit, we follow our Savior along the path of lowliness and humility.
       Our ability to rise and shine in Christ is one of faith’s many miracles – the action of God on our hearts, not our own doing. 
       Isaiah wrote his prophecies almost 3000 years ago to comfort the faithful people of Israel as they faced a rough passage in their history.  Whatever difficulties lay ahead for them, they were to remember that God was preparing a time of great rejoicing for them.  “No longer will you have the sun for light by day,” Isaiah wrote, “nor will the brightness of the moon give you light, but you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory.  Your sun will no longer set nor will your moon wane....the days of your mourning will be over.”
       Isaiah’s words also apply to the church, to St. Peter’s, to you and me.  Our faithful Lord gives us promises to hold onto.  We cling to him and cope with any spiritual trial.  The key is to walk humbly in faith, not in a hurry but patient.  I suspect that Jesus has made the people of St. Peter’s, not perfect, but still pretty good at these qualities, and how much your neighbors benefit.  It pleases the Lord that we do not weaken but keep on rising and shining.  The point is not to quit.  In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, which I almost never make, we can promise with God’s help to make improvements, because his light has come in Christ, and his glory rises upon us.  In his name we rejoice.  AMEN.
The peace of God...

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