Pastor Johnold J. Strey
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church; Belmont, CA
Sermon on Isaiah 60:1-6
The Epiphany of Our Lord (transferred)
Sunday, January 2, 2010
SAVIOR OF THE NATIONS, COME!
- Come in all your glory
- Come to all the nations
Is Christianity inclusive or exclusive? The correct answer is “yes.” Christianity is inclusive because its message is not meant for one group or class or nationality, but for all people. Christianity is exclusive because the blessings Jesus came to bring do not come to everyone automatically, but only through faith in the redeeming work of Christ. So Christianity is really inclusive and exclusive at the same time.
Even though Christianity is both inclusive and exclusive, sometimes one side of the coin becomes emphasized to the exclusion of the other. If we go back in history before the birth of Jesus, the Jews received God’s promise that the Savior would be born from their race, but sometimes they mistakenly thought that they were God’s exclusive people. Sometimes they fell under the false assumption that the Messiah was only coming for their nation. But if they had listened carefully to God’s prophets, they would not have entertained that idea.
This is what Epiphany is all about. On Christmas Eve we talk about the event: Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. On Christmas Day we talk about the miracle: God and man are one in the person of Jesus Christ. On Epiphany—the day we remember the Magi’s visit to the boy Jesus—we talk about the extent of God’s Christmas gift. The visit of the Wise Men from the east says loud and clear that Jesus is not an exclusive Messiah, but an inclusive Savior who came to save and redeem the world from sin. Jesus is not the Savior for one nation, but the Savior for all nations. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah revealed that truth in words that form today’s First Lesson and inform today’s sermon. With Isaiah, we pray: Savior of the nations, come! Come in all your glory, and come to all the nations.
There are three important contexts that we should establish in order to help us appreciate Isaiah’s words. The first is the big picture of Isaiah’s book. The second half of Isaiah, from chapter 40 forward, was written for an audience to come in the future—specifically, a future generation of Jews who would be taken captive by the Babylonians. Isaiah told a generation yet to be born about the deliverance that God would provide them from their captors. But Isaiah went on to use that picture of national captivity to discuss the deliverance from spiritual and eternal captivity that God would provide through the Savior who was yet to come.
The next piece of context that will be helpful is the section that just comes before our reading. God had just called his people to task for their sinful ways and empty religious practices. He rolled over their sinful souls like a bulldozer, leaving them flat on the floor with his devastating judgment fresh in their minds.
The last item we should note is the expression Isaiah uses, “The glory of the Lord.” This phrase appears throughout the Old Testament and four times in Isaiah’s book. “The glory of the Lord” is a technical phrase that describes some special appearance and miraculous action from God as he furthers his plan of salvation. Understanding that phrase will help us understand what Isaiah says in the opening verses of our reading.
So let’s put all of this context to work in the opening verses. Isaiah opens up chapter 60 with these words: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” God is speaking to people devastated by the sin that has darkened their hearts and lives. They expect his hellish judgment, and instead he commands them, “Arise, shine!” The “glory of the Lord rises upon you.” Isaiah looks into the future when God would put his glory into action and deliver sinners from the devastating and eternal consequences of their sin. Even though this would happen in the future, Isaiah writes as if it is as good as done—for any promise from God is as good as done! They could stand up from their gloom and shine with the light of the gospel that God would place in their hearts. The future saving acts of Jesus Christ would fill their hearts with the light of Christ’s gospel and the glory of God’s forgiveness.
Did you make any resolutions for the New Year? Did any of your resolutions have to do with coming to church regularly, or attending Bible Class, or making personal devotions a regular part of your life? When we make a resolution about something, we implicitly state that something is wrong: a resolution to eat healthier or exercise regularly implies that we haven’t been eating well or exercising often. The fact that we could make resolutions that have to do with our soul also suggests something. Even if you didn’t make a resolution to increase your time in God’s house and his Word, you certainly could have! For there is not a soul among us who isn’t prone to thinking, “God should love me just the way I am.” There is not a soul among us who isn’t guilty of breaking God’s basic commandments and then finding a way to rationalize it for ourselves. There isn’t a soul among us who isn’t covered by the dark cloud of sin and all the ways sin shows up in our daily lives.
With the dark cloud of sin hovering over our souls, the last thing we would expect to hear is good news from God. But what did God do in our reading as the dark cloud of sin loomed over his people? That’s when he appeared with his glorious light of grace and forgiveness! And that is when God comes to you in his gracious glory! He comes in all his glory in his Word, where he announces the sins of 2010 forgiven through the blood Jesus shed on the cross nearly 2,000 years earlier. He comes in all his glory through your baptism, where the light of faith first shone in your heart and continues to shine with God’s never-failing promises of love and forgiveness. He comes in all his glory in his Supper, where Christ places his sacrificed body and shed blood into your mouth and applies his sin-forgiving sacrifice to your heart.
Do you want forgiveness for 2010? Do you want a truly clean and pure slate for 2011? Then look to Jesus, the Savior of the nations. Look to his hidden glory on the cross and his resurrected glory on Easter, and know that he has delivered you from devastating captivity of sin.
Remember our discussion about Christianity being inclusive or exclusive? The verses from our reading that we are about to cover bring that discussion to the forefront. For Jesus, the Savior of the nations, has come in all his glory for all the nations. Isaiah makes that point with these poetic word pictures: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 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. 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. 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.”
Our reading started with God’s glory shining on his people. But now Isaiah describes that glory as the people’s glory. “Nations will come to your light.” God’s believers are pictured as virtual mirrors that reflect Christ’s gospel of forgiveness to all nations around the earth. When believers tell others what they believe and what Christ has done for all people, they look like “light” as they reflect God’s light to others.
Isaiah describes that light drawing people to Christ in a number of different ways. “Nations will come to your light.” Isaiah doesn’t say that every person from every nation will come into God’s kingdom, but he does say that the gospel will draw people from all corners of the world into the kingdom of God.
As Isaiah moves on, he becomes more specific about these nations. “All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm.” Remember the context: the Jews reading this were in captivity. Isaiah pictures the sons and daughters of Israel escaping a different kind of captivity—spiritual captivity—and being gathered into God’s family. And along with them are still others. “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.” Midian and Ephah were the son and grandson of Abraham through his second wife, following the death of his first wife, Sarah. These names of descendants became the name of another nation and a region within that nation. The Midianites were not always friends to the Israelites, but Isaiah pictures them gladly coming into God’s kingdom. Sheba was the name of a country on the southern Arabian peninsula—a nation rich in gold and precious stones and spices. The entire picture envisions foreigners coming into the church.
Of course, it is not hard to see why this reading is paired with the Epiphany Gospel. Magi from the East, foreigners to Israel, were led to the boy Jesus by a miraculous star. The gifts they brought parallel the gifts that Isaiah pictures other foreigners presenting to God. Isaiah reveals the same truth that the Epiphany account reveals: Jesus, the Savior of the nations, has come to all nations.
Some of the emphases we tend to think about during the Epiphany season is mission work and evangelism. It makes perfect sense. God led the Magi, foreigners from another nation, to the boy Jesus by that miraculous star. And God continues to call people from all nations into his church.
Does that change the way we look at mission work? Instead of looking at the financial report and wondering if we can somehow knock down that $16,000 figure that we give to our synod each year, perhaps we should view recognize that number for what it is—our congregational support for bringing the gospel to other communities in our nation and other nations around the world. Instead of looking at the church calendar and looking at our upcoming “Epiphany Evangelism Exploration” sessions as just another meeting, perhaps we should recognize it as an opportunity to encourage and expand the evangelistic outreach of our congregation.
It’s all too easy to neglect mission work. After all, the unchurched generally don’t complain when we don’t reach out to them. But should it be so easy to neglect such an important task? For Jesus lived and died and rose again as the Savior of all nations, and his greatest desire is to see more lost souls receive the blessings that he came to win for them!
Five Sundays ago, when we started the new church year, we sang a hymn called, “Savior of the Nations, Come.” We usually sing that hymn on the first Sunday of the church year. When we sang that hymn, we essentially put ourselves into the Old Testament, asking God to keep his promise to send the Savior. Today we pray those words again, but in a different context. Today we pray, “Savior of the nations, come,” but our emphasis is on the word “nations.” The Savior who came, came for all. That means he came for you. And that means he came for everyone else on this globe, too. Don’t let that only be a fact in your mind. Let that be the glorious gospel truth that drives your confession of faith at home, and your support of missions worldwide. Then that prayer will become reality: “Savior of the nations, come!” Amen.