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Epiphany 2023
January 1, 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

            The darkness in the world can be overwhelming. You can get a glimpse of the darkness sometimes walking the halls of a nursing home or a hospital full of sick and hurting and disabled people with never enough dedicated nurses and aides to help them. There is so much pain and suffering and loneliness all concentrated in one building.  You can feel the darkness at children’s hospital where the underground parking garage seems to go on and on forever and it strikes you that there are far too many very sick children who need that great hospital.  There is such darkness in the world.

            And you get home and turn on the evening news and hear about people shot to death over an argument at a party.  You hear about children being abused.  You hear about powerful factions in nations trying to seize power from each other with the citizens caught in the middle as their world is torn apart by soldiers with rifles and tanks and missiles.

            In this world there is great darkness.  You can feel the darkness of hatred, anger, violence, destruction, perversion, poverty, addiction.  As you look into the faces of those around you and the face staring back at you in the mirror you can see the disappointment and desperation and depression that comes from life in the darkness of a fallen world. 

            In the thick darkness of this world you can get lost. People stumble around desperately looking for something that has meaning; something that brings peace, something that dulls the loneliness of the darkness.  Folks search desperately for something to take away the pain — but instead of relief, they find that they are being suffocated by the darkness. 

            There is a great darkness in the world.  But in this deep darkness a light shines.  Like lighting a candle in a pitch black room, even a small light destroys the darkness.  That small light is first seen emanating from a manger in the town of Bethlehem. 

            The Lord God has come to earth in human flesh.  Isaiah 60:1-3 (ESV) 1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

            The light of the world dawns in the little town of Bethlehem.  The flame is lit.  The creator of the world has come to earth to love and serve and give His life for His people; for all people. 

            There is a great darkness in the world.  But in this deep darkness a light shines.  Like lighting a candle in a pitch black room, even a small light destroys the darkness.  That small light is first seen emanating from a manger in the town of Bethlehem. 

            John 1:1, 4-9 (ESV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. . 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world….

            The light has come to us as that baby in Bethlehem. The light of the world has dawned upon us in Jesus, the Son of God in flesh.  It is the Epiphany, the appearance of God.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  Try as it might, darkness cannot overcome light.  As the vicar said on Christmas, darkness is not the opposite of light, but the absence of light.  The forces of darkness try to snuff out the light.  They try to silence the light.  They try to intimidate the light.  They try to kill the light by nailing Him to the cross, but darkness cannot extinguish the light; the light of the world dawns again on Easter morning.

            And the light of Christ is not a search light overwhelming you with its bright beam.  Not yet.  The light of Christ is not a great fireball in the sky that demands attention.  Not yet.  For now, the light of Christ is the small flame of faith that burns within each of the followers of the light; the light that burns within you.

Christ comes to Bethlehem as the light in the darkness but the light does not remain confined to Bethlehem.  The light spreads to the Shepherds who then tell others.  The light spreads to the mystical magi who come to town to worship the newborn king and take this news back to their homeland.

The light spreads as Jesus’ ministry is begun by John the Baptist bearing witness about the light.  The light spreads as Jesus shows who He is through teaching and miracles and His transfiguration.  The light is spread by the disciples of Jesus who after His death and resurrection bring the Good News of forgiveness of sins to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  They are witnesses to the light.  They have seen the glory of the Word made flesh and they tell others.  The light is spread by Paul who is sent by Christ to bring the light to the Gentiles, the non-Jews, who as followers of Jesus are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. 

The light of Christ spreads from Jerusalem to our ancestors in Europe and Asia and Africa.  The light spreads to the New World; to North, Central and South America.  The light spreads from parent to child, from friend to friend, from pastor to those who hear.  The light has traveled a long way from that manger in Bethlehem to you; the light of the world. 

As the light spreads on Christmas Eve from the Christ candle, to my candle, to the acolytes and the vicar, to those on the end of the pews, to those in the pews until everyone has the light, so, in the same way, the light of Christ is spread from the Christ child to people all over the world who are the light of Christ. 

The light, which dawned in Bethlehem and was revealed to the magi from the east, now burns within you here in this church building on this Sunday morning. But this light; the light of Christ, will not stay confined to the Church building on Sunday morning.  Here is where you come to hear again about the light; to again receive the light through the Word of the light and the Body and Blood of the light so that you can go out into the dark world during the week and be the light of Christ.  You come here, into the light, to be refreshed by the light — for it is a dark world out there.

            Today, as you leave here, you carry the light of Christ out into the darkness of the world.  In your love for others, you bring the light into the gloom and the light pushes back the darkness.

            Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV) 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

You bring the light of Christ to a dark world when you show others grace and love and mercy and forgiveness; the same grace and love and mercy and forgiveness that you have received from Jesus.  You bring the light of Christ to the world when you show others the humble service shown to you by the servant Savior, Jesus.  You show the light by humbly serving others who do not deserve to be served.  You bring the light of Christ to the world when you show others the unconditional forgiveness that you have received from Jesus.  You bring the light of Christ to the world when you care for those who are most vulnerable.  You bring the light of Christ to the world by your good works that others will see and give glory to God. 

You bring the light of Christ to the world when you bear witness to the light. And who is the Light of Christ for? To whom do you bring it?  It is for all people, Jew and Gentile.  It is for sinners.  It is for those in the darkness.  It is for all people.  It is for your family, your classmates, your coworkers, the people you encounter each day, especially the ones that make you uncomfortable.  It is the light of the unsearchable riches of Christ, the overflowing forgiveness of sins poured out upon undeserving sinners.  You bring this light to a world of darkness and depression and despair.  You bring this light to a world of pain and suffering and loneliness that is being convinced by the devil that there is no hope.  You bring the light to the world when you point people to the Word of God, to the waters of baptism, to the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. You bring the light to the world when you point people to the Church.  You bring the light to the world through support of mission efforts here at home and around the globe.  You are the light of the world; let your light shine.  And remember the light is not a blazing spotlight.  It is a small flame pushing back the darkness around you as you live your ordinary life in an extraordinary way as a child of the light amidst people of the darkness.

            And remember, lest the devil deceive you, your salvation is not dependent on the quantity or quality of your light bearing. Your salvation is not based on the brightness of your light.  Your salvation is not from the light you shine, your salvation is the light you shine.  Your salvation is a gift from Jesus.  The light has given His light to you so you are no longer in the darkness.  The light you shine comes from Christ.  This light defeats darkness.  This light defeats the power of sin and guilt and shame.  This light defeats the devil. 

            You, a baptized follower of Jesus, are the light of the world because you have received the light of Christ.  Live as light.  Amen.

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