The Epiphany of Our Lord
“Light for a Darkened World”
Reverend Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Matthew 2.1-12
06 January 2022
✠ SOLI DEO GLORIA ✠
In the history of the Western World there was a period known as “The Dark Ages,” a time that has been characterized as “600 years of degenerate, Godless, inhuman behavior.” The years 476 to 1,000 a.D. are the usual boundaries. Francesco Petrarch, an Italian monk who lived in the early 14th century has sometimes been credited with coining the term. Actually, he had it reversed with the time before Christ. He erred because he saw no cultural achievements in the centuries up to 1,000 A.D., unlike what he perceived in the Greek and Roman worlds. He saw Roman culture as light and pre-humanism as darkness. No doubt, early Christians would have disagreed with that assessment as the culture of the Roman Empire collapsed under its own weight. Corruption and debauchery, violence and disdain for life, were everywhere apparent just as in our age.
The prophet Isaiah describes the darkness that intrudes into every age:
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness!” (Isaiah 5:20a, ESV)
In this sense, every age can be called “dark,” but only one age can be called “light,” and that is the age which began when Christ was born and revealed at Bethlehem. The star which guided the Magi to the infant Jesus was the first light to come from the manger. As Jesus began his ministry, the light has grown brighter and brighter. The light went out first to the Jews, then it went out to the Gentiles, to the whole world.
Epiphany is a Greek word which simply means “revelation.” Epiphany is all about the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ to the entire world, not merely to the Jews. Epiphany is all about the, the light of Christ, enlightening a sin-darkened world. Christ is the Light that lightens every man, said the Evangelist John.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:4-13, ESV)
We might say the Christmas is a Jewish celebration. Jesus was born of Jewish parents in a Jewish city. He was raised according to the Law of Moses and fulfilled it throughout his life. He was born according to God’s promises that the Savior would be born of the Jews. But you might say that he isn’t for you because you aren’t a Jew. Epiphany changes all that. Epiphany shouts that this newborn king is not merely king of the Jews, but the king of all people. He is the Savior of the Jews and he is the Savior of the Gentiles. The Gospel now goes global with the visit of the Magi! It happened, just as Isaiah had foretold and as Paul wrote in our Epistle, that the mystery hidden for ages is now Epiphanied, revealed!
“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:5-6, ESV)
Earlier Paul reminded his Gentile readers:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-16, ESV)
It seems that darkness threatens to overcome the Light, as we see, hear, and read the news from all over the world! The shadows often intrude into our lives, too, because the unbelieving world lives in darkness. Some continue stubbornly in the pitch darkness of sin and death, empowered by the prince of darkness, seeking to drag the sons of light back into the darkness, but the world will not go back to the Dark Ages because of the Epiphany of Our Lord. The darkness cannot put out the light of Christ because Christ lives. He has won the final victory over the darkness of sin, death, and hell by his innocent life, suffering, death and his mighty resurrection from the dead. The outcome is not in doubt!
At the font Christ attached himself to you, so Paul urges you to live out your Baptism.
“for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)” (Ephesians 5:8-9, ESV)
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV)
And then the Apostle John writes:
“At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” (1 John 2:8-10, ESV)
Our world is fractured. It’s a problem because of the darkness of sin. No government program can change the reasons why people are at odds with each other. Critical Race Theory makes a bad situation worse. Blaming other races is no cure for hatred. No legislation can break down the barriers. Ironically, legislation often exacerbates a bad situation. Only Christ can remedy this fracture because he is the Savior of all people. He breaks down the barriers that exist between Jew and Gentile, but also between Arab and Jew, Asian and African, white, black, red, yellow, or brown. Christ is not the divider, but the Unifier of mankind. Epiphany proclaims that Christ is the Savior of Jew and Gentile alike. There is no difference! Christ’s forgiveness is for all people. The arrival of the Magi proves it. Epiphany is the season when mission work is emphasized. Those who have received Light share that Light with others. The candle lighting ceremony on Christmas Eve points forward to Epiphany. The light of Christ is shared person by person from the Christ Candle. And so, those who live in the Light are to share that Light with those in darkness.
Christ Jesus has delivered the world from the darkness of eternal death. While Martin Franzmann’s great hymn, “Thy Strong Word” is not listed as an Epiphany hymn, it should be. It’s hymn 578. This phrase recurs four times:
Praise to Thee who light dost send!
Epiphany! Then in stanza five Franzmann changes it:
May the light which Thou dost send
Fill our songs with alleluias,
Alleluias without end!
And then comes the glorious sixth doxological stanza which incorporates phrases from the Nicene Creed. Jesus is the Light who comes from the Father and is revealed by the Holy Spirit.
God the Father, light-creator,
To Thee laud and honor be.
To Thee, Light of Light begotten,
Praise be sung eternally.
Holy Spirit, light-revealer,
Glory, glory be to Thee.
Mortals, angels, now and ever
Praise the Holy Trinity!
Christ, the true Light, continues to shine in ways that the world in its darkness cannot comprehend. But you see the Light! You are “sons of light” [1 Thess. 5.5] You live in the Light because of your Baptism! You are children of the Light! Indeed, Christ is the “Light for a Darkened World.” Share this Light with this darkened world! Share your bounties here in this congregation so that others here and around the world may also be called out of the darkness of sin and death and into the Light, which is Christ our Lord!
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.