1Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; So cries out the prophet as we begin this blessed season of light. Arise and shine! Your light has come in Christ Jesus. The glory of the Lord has risen in the Christ child of Bethlehem. Arise and Shine!
It seems straight-forward enough … except for one small problem. Human hearts are weighed down by darkness. Human reasoning is cloaked in darkness. In short, we are not very bright, and simply calling us to be so will not make it so. Human lives shine as little as dirt in a lantern, to quote Luther. Indeed He will go on to say:
The weak-minded may ask: “How can it be that all natural reason teaches is darkness? Plainly, three and two are Five, are they not? Again, if a man make a coat, is he not wise to make it of cloth, or foolish to make it of paper? Is he not wise who marries a godly woman, and he foolish who marries a godless one? And are there not similar instances innumerable in human affairs? Never can you persuade me that all natural reason is darkness … I answer: This is all true, but it is necessary to make a distinction between God and men, between spiritual and temporal things. In earthly, human affairs man’s judgment suffices. For these things, he needs no light but that of reason. Hence God does not in the Scriptures teach us how to build houses, to make clothing, to marry, to wage war, to sail the seas, and so on. For these, our natural light is sufficient.
But in divine things, the things concerning God, and in which we must conduct ourselves acceptably with him and must secure happiness for ourselves, human nature is absolutely blind, staring stone-blind, unable to recognize in the slightest degree what these things are. Natural reason presumptuously plunges into them like a blind horse. But all its conclusions are, as certainly as God lives, false and erroneous, In this capacity it proceeds like a man who builds on sand, or one who would use cobwebs for garments. It employs sand for meal in making bread. It sows wind and reaps the whirlwind. It measures the atmosphere with a spoon, carries light into the cellar upon a tray, weighs flames in a balance, performing all manner of perverted nonsense ever known or possible to be devised. For all its efforts are designed as service to God and they must utterly fail.
Just think about all the places and in all the ways that sin, death, and the devil work so hard all around us to cover and darken our hearts, to prevent us from seeing the saving light of the Lord upon us. Not all religions are the same. You can (and should) judge them by their works and their morals. Further, morality is not exclusive to one, but morality without one has no binding basis on anyone. Internet memes are not reasoned arguments, but when it comes to religion, they are good enough for most people. Religion is the one place where even the smartest prove themselves to be so oppressively dim.
But this is the light and the glory of this prophecy from Isaiah – the Christ child is the true embodiment of Israel, the true light and glory that saves us from the darkness of our own sin-stained hearts and minds. Because of her sins, the light of Israel does not always shine so brightly. The same is true for us. But Jesus, the new Israel, always shines always cuts through the darkness, and draws the Gentiles to himself.
2For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. Consider this thought dear Christians, the darkness Isaiah speaks of is literal. As literal as the darkness that covered the earth in the middle of that Good Friday when Jesus hung on the cross bearing the weight of this worlds dark sin. And in that darkness Jesus finished our salvation. The light of the world experiences the darkness of the kingdom of darkness itself – even to being separated fro God who is light. And He did this so that the glory of the Lord might shine upon us. He did this precisely so that we might arise and shine.
5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. And so this promise of light is not just a vague or generic prophecy either, it too is very specific in its fulfillment as the Word made flesh. And the nations do literally come on camel and dromedary, bringing gifts of Gold and Frankincense and praise. Reflecting the very specific fulfillment of God’s Word for our salvation. The dreaded camels of Midian that once were a threat to the existence of Israel will now be brought under true Israel’s domain and will serve to bring not warfare, but praise and glory! The wise men of the east arose and shone in the promise held before them in the Epiphany star, in the words of Holy Scripture revealed to them.
And so the starting exhortation to Arise and shine is understood in that we diligently learn and study the Word and grow in its understanding so that we may be filled with the light of this glory – this Gospel. The light of Jesus shines unto others through his people’s faith and love. In His light we not only see light – we shed light. We become like moons to the sun. We reflect His glory as we show forth His praise. Just as the Gentile visitors from the east. And what treasure will you lay at the feet of this babe who is the light of the world? Nothing less than that we should thank and praise Him, serve and obey Him – reflecting His light into the darkness of our sin-stained world.