Sunday, January 6, 2019
From Isaiah: Arise, shine, for your light has come, & from Matthew: we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.
There’s an old legend about three men. Each man carried two sacks, one sack tied in front and the other sack resting on his back.
When the first man was asked what was in his sacks, he said, in the sack on my back are all the good things friends and family have done for me. That way they’re hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me and all the mistakes I’ve made. Every now and then I stop, open the front sack, containing all the bad things that have happened to me, take the things out, examine them, and think about them. Because he stopped so much to concentrate on all the bad stuff in his life, his pace was slow, and he made little progress.
When the second man was asked about his sacks, he replied in exactly an opposite way. In the front sack are all the good things that have happened to me. I like to see them, so quite often I take them out to show them off to people and reminisce.
He was asked about the sack in the back. He answered, I keep all my mistakes, all my regrets are there and I them with me all the time. Sure, they’re heavy. They slow me down, but you know, for some reason I can’t bring myself to put them down.
When the third man was asked about his sacks, he answered in a totally different way. Like the second man he answered, the sack in front is where I keep all the blessings I’ve experienced, all the great things other people have done for me. The weight isn’t a problem. In fact, it keeps me moving forward. But, as for the second sack, he answered, the sack on my back is empty. There’s nothing in it. Because, I cut a big hole in the bottom. Then I put all my regrets and all my mistakes from my past in that sack. They go in one end and out the other, so I’m not carrying around any extra weight at all.
I believe that’s a good story for this first Sunday in the New Year. We all carry around hurts and regrets that weigh us down. The New Year would be a good time to cut a hole in our sack and let those hurts and regrets fall through so that we can focus on the good things that have happened in our lives.
It’s interesting that we are starting the Year 2019 on the Day of Epiphany. The Day of Epiphany is the first day in the season of Epiphany which starts with the wise men following a distant light and continues through the celebration of the Transfiguration, when we see Jesus in all His glory.
Epiphany isn’t just a season of the church year anymore; it’s also considered a part of our secular world. When we say that someone has had an epiphany, we usually mean that that person has had a moment in which they have achieved a realization, an awareness or a knowledge of something, and because of that epiphany, events are thrown into a new light. Such epiphanies may be life-changing.
The symbol of light is an appropriate one in this, the darkest season of the year. Light is a favorite symbol throughout the Scriptures. Christ said that we do not light a candle and put it under a bushel. Christ Himself is seen as the light of the world. When Isaiah proclaimed the coming of the anointed One of God, he declared, Arise, shine, for your light is come (60:1). That’s great good news as we begin this New Year. Our light has come. Christ is our light and in Him is no darkness at all.
Just as light is the appropriate symbol for Christ, darkness is the appropriate symbol for a world without Christ.
Have you ever wondered what people centuries from now will think about our culture? It is, of course, anybody’s guess, who remembers those Charmin commercials. I do hope our culture is about more than bathroom tissue.
Life is so confusing. I wish that life was as easily explained as that great philosopher of the comic strips, Charlie Brown. Lucy is telling him; life is a mystery Charlie Brown; do you know the answer? Charlie Brown answers with; Be kind. Don’t smoke. Be prompt. Smile a lot. Eat sensibly. Avoid cavities and mark your ballot carefully. Avoid too much sun. Send overseas packages early. Love all creatures above and below. Insure your belongings and try to keep the ball low. Before he can get out another cliché, Lucy interrupts: Hold real still, she says, because I am going to punch you in the nose!
We can appreciate her frustration, can’t we? None of us appreciates a know-it-all who spouts clichés that don’t address our real needs. What we really need is a little encouragement at times, don’t we? Maybe this past year has been a little rough for you. Perhaps you need somebody to put his hand on your shoulder and reinforce your feelings about yourself. Isaiah tells us that Christ offers the encouragement you need. “Arise! Shine! Your light has come!”
What would it take to help you get your New Year off to a good start? Some of us have made resolutions. We’re trying to lose weight, exercise more, use our time more efficiently. I know we make our resolutions, but it’s not easy in a world of darkness. Our biggest enemy is inside us. There’s something within our hearts that causes us to resist the very things that we need to have a satisfying life.
And who can doubt that darkness is the appropriate symbol for a world without Christ? In the same way, light is the appropriate symbol of a world with Christ. He is our guide, our strength, the One who fills our life with meaning.
Thank God we have a star to follow. It’s the same star that guided the magi long ago. It’s the light of Christ. Christ, who is a dependable guide, whose love never fails.
If you look in the dictionary, the first definition for ‘light’ is ‘a sensation of brightness that makes seeing possible.’ In other words, light makes it possible for us to see. Without light, we are hopelessly blind, blind to our surroundings, blind to our situations and circumstances, blind even to ourselves. Light makes it possible for us to see clearly, things as they really are.
Did you know that an absence of sunlight causes blindness? Animals who live their lives in a complete absence of light are commonly blind, even eyeless. Mules kept in mines become blind. Horses kept in dark stables and denied sunlight become blind. Those who live in dungeons, cellars, prisons, mines, and similar places that are denied sunlight lose their sight. Before Jesus, most of the world was spiritually blind. Christ made it possible for us to have a glimpse of God in His glory.
Bart Millard and MercyMe put it so well in their song, “I Can Only Imagine,”
Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you Jesus?
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in your presence?
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.
Of course, we cannot or don’t have to imagine. We know when we have that final grand epiphany of the glory of Christ, it will be far beyond anything we have ever experienced before.
I'm sure that when it is our time to go heaven, we will find ourselves in the presence of Christ, and we too would find ourselves overwhelmed as well, overwhelmed with His holiness, overwhelmed with the light of His love.
Arise, shine, for your light is come.