SERMON TEXT BELOW
Epiphany (Observed) 2023
January 7, 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
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Are people by nature, good or evil? Are folks naturally selfless, or selfish? What about you?
We would like to believe that if we were left alone to live together everything would be fine. We would like to believe that people are, by nature, good, and that people would naturally share with each other, help each other, and love each other.
This is some of the foundation behind the ideas of communism. What a wonderful place this world would be if everyone worked together for the common good. Each person contributes according to their ability and everyone shares equally in the fruits of the labor; a worker’s paradise.
But there is a flaw in the system. Communist governments have to maintain brutal control over the people and ruthlessly squash any dissent. It turns out that collective farms and factories do not produce as much as individually owned farms and factories. What is the problem?
Children sometimes fantasize about how great it would be if kids ran everything; families, schools and government. Everything would all be better if there were no adults around with their stupid rules and discipline. William Golding wrote a book about this, it’s called “Lord of the Flies.” For those who haven’t read it yet, Golding portrays self-government among British school boys. It does not go well.
We want freedom to just do what we want to do. But is that really a good idea? What would the world look like if you just did what you wanted? I don’t want to get up and go to school. I don’t want to brush my teeth. I am going to drive as fast as I want. I want money and you have some, so I will take it. I don’t want to be tied down to one woman. I don’t want to take care of my kids. I just want to get drunk and forget about life. I want… I want…
What would your life be like if you simply let your desires rule? You can see what happens because there are plenty of examples all around you. You see the disastrous consequences. You see how terrible this is in your own life and in the lives of those around you. You see the destruction of families. You see people self-destruct as they ignore all the warnings. You watch lives fall apart because of selfishness.
You really, really want to believe that people are, by nature, good, but you know this is not true. You just confessed that you are… by nature…sinful and unclean.
Your heart is darkened by the sin of selfishness from which flows all other sins and this is not just you, it is a universal problem. It is a selfish world, and a selfish world is a dark world and this is the world you live in. This is the world into which Jesus arrives as that baby born in Bethlehem. Jesus, the Light, comes into a dark, selfish world and this is the Good News for all eternity. “Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Jesus is the light of the world. He comes to bring the Good News of the Reign of Heaven. He is the light that illuminates the darkness. He is the glory of the Lord and yet it is a hidden light, a hidden glory. The baby Jesus is the light of the world and yet veiled in flesh the Godhead see. Peter, James and John see the glory of God burst through only for a moment on the Mount of Transfiguration, otherwise the Light, hidden as it is in the body of Jesus, needs to be revealed. Just as the light was hidden in the flesh of baby Jesus, the light is now hidden in the Word of God, hidden in the waters of Baptism, hidden in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. The light is here with us, but it is hidden for now and needs to be revealed.
The light is revealed to the shepherds in the field by one angel and then by an army of angels. The light is revealed to the Magi from the east by a star guiding them to the child. The Magi come seeking the one born king of the Jews. The star reveals the Light of the world to these unlikely people from the east who journey to find and worship the newborn king.
But even with the bright star in the sky showing the way to the Light, the inky darkness of selfish sin hovers about. Herod tries to use the Magi to find the Christ so he can kill the newborn King. Herod wants to snuff out the Light because he fears that the Light will impinge on his own power. There is power in darkness and dark power brings increasing evil.
We look at Herod and see him as a notorious villain for wanting to snuff out the Light; but Herod is not unique. “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” People still want to snuff out the light of Christ because they worry that the Light will reduce their own power, their autonomy; their control, their selfish pursuit of doing what they want to do, not caring about others.
The darkness hates the light and tries to snuff it out by forbidding people to reveal the Light to others. For 2,000 years and still today, Christians are imprisoned and beaten and executed for being the light of Christ. In North Korea you can be executed for possessing a Bible and your family will be thrown in prison. The darkness hates the light.
The darkness denies that the Light has come into the world. The darkness pretends that the Light is a tamer, more palatable, less offensive light that plays well with the darkness. But true light will not mix with darkness.
Darkness distracts you so you ignore the Light. Darkness wants you to not hear about the Light, not read about the Light, not speak about the Light, not pray to the Light, not gather to worship the Light. Darkness wants you to get so busy with things of this world that you just ignore the Light. The darkness goes after individuals to get them to reject the light because the darkness cannot extinguish the Light of the world.
As Herod found out, even as his sword dripped with the blood of Bethlehem’s baby boys, the Light cannot be overcome. The Light has come into the world and the revelation of this Light, the Epiphany of the Light, the understanding of the Light, continues even to this day as news of the light of Christ is proclaimed in this dark world from pulpits and lecterns and dinner tables and bedside talks with children. The Light is here. At the temple, Simeon calls Jesus, “A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Let the Light shine. This is the mission of the Church. We proclaim the truth of the Light. We announce the Good News; Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We baptize and teach. We forgive sins and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The Church shines forth the Light that shines for all people. In this Light, sin and guilt disappear, washed away by the love of Christ. In this Light you live in love and forgiveness.
The Light comes into the world, is swaddled, and laid in a manger in Bethlehem. The Light escapes Herod’s sword by fleeing to Egypt. On a dark Friday, thirty three years later, outside the walls of Jerusalem, it looks like the darkness will finally smother the light. From the cross, the Light, declares, “It is finished,” and the life goes out from His eyes. Life is gone from the Light and it appears that darkness has won. The Light has died, but the Light rises from the dead and continues to shine forth forever. Darkness will never overcome the light.
You still live in a dark, selfish world. People are, by nature, evil. By nature, you are selfish and dark, but you have been rescued from the darkness. Colossians 1:13 (ESV) 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…” You have been born again in water and the Spirit just as you got to witness here this morning with the baptism of our little brother Everett.
And just like Everett, you have received Christ who is the light of the world. You are a child of light in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 60:1 (ESV) 1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Amen.