Bible Text: Matthew 2:1-12 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year A Light to Lighten the Gentiles St. Matthew 2:1-12 by William Klock In the Ancient Church the Epiphany of Our Lord was originally what Christmas, or the Nativity is for us today.  It was the starting point of the story of Redemption.  The Eastern Church didn’t emphasize the birth of Christ the way we now do.  Instead they considered Jesus’ baptism to be the beginning of the story.  Epiphany means revelation or manifestation.  It was at his baptism that Jesus was first unveiled as the Redeemer.  God the Father declared that day: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  The Holy Spirit descended on a man that most people just saw as a humble carpenter from Nazareth and anointed him prophet, priest, and king.  That was the moment where we see the assurance that Jesus was divinely equipped for his ministry and that’s the starting point of his public ministry on earth. When we in the Western Church first started celebrating the Epiphany we were already celebrating Christmas as the beginning of Christ’s story, so we adapted the Epiphany to fit into our Western church year.  What the Church celebrates on December 25th is something that really happened in Israel.  The people who received the baby as the Messiah they’d been waiting for were the Jews – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and lots of others who encountered him during his ministry.  But the Western Church wasn’t Jewish – it was a mostly Gentile church – so the Epiphany became a sort of Christmas of the Gentiles.  A feast to celebrate and emphasize that Christ came not only for the Jews, but for all people.  The story of the kings from the East was chosen as the main lesson because it tells the story of the first revealing of Christ as the Saviour – not just of the Jews, but of all peoples and nations. The prophet Isaiah wrote to the Israelites, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1, 3)  But Isaiah gets even more specific: “All they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praise of the Lord.”  God calls to his people: “Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  It takes us right into the Gospel lesson where we see the kings from the East: “We have seen his star in the East; and we have come to worship him.”  In our collect we prayed, “O God, who by the leading of star manifested your only-begotten Son to the Gentiles…”  In the Holy Gospel the Gentiles come.  We read there in verses 1-2: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,  “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” I know that we’re used to seeing the three magi gathered around the stable with the shepherds under our Christmas trees, but in reality these Gentile magi came to worship quite a bit later – not less than two months later, but possibly as long as a couple of years.  The Bible doesn’t say how these men came to Bethlehem.  It simply tells us that they were astronomers from the east – probably Persia or Babylon – who followed the star so that they could worship the newborn King. They came to worship the Lord Jesus.  These Gentiles knew that he was King of the Jews – the one promised to the Jews and expected by them, the Comforter and helper of Israel.  But these men from another country came to worship him as if he were their own king.  When they saw him, they saw their Lord, their King – they saw a kingdom that wasn’t confined to Israel.  They saw a king who could save the Gentiles too. Every time I read this story I wonder how and why these men made the King of the Jews their own king.  We read: “We have seen his star in the East.”  Later in the story we read that God warned them not to return to Herod.  This is one of those times when we see the hand of God at work.  God was with these men.  The same God who had given so many revelations to the Jews about their coming saviour also gave some kind of revelation to Gentiles.  He sent angels to the shepherds and he sent a star to these kings of the East. I think that many Gentiles like these men knew about Israel and were probably at least a little familiar with the prophecies about her.  If you remember, Balaam, the prophet who spoke about the star that would rise out of Jacob and the sceptre of Judah, was an Easterner.  The Jews were also captives in Babylon for 70 years – and many stayed there never to return to their homeland.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that the magi were looking in faith for the promises made to Israel to come true.  The star that God placed in the sky would have been the perfect thing for them to see – a symbol prophesied by one of their own hundreds of years earlier that God knew they would remember.  When they saw the star they knew that the Promised One had been born. When God announced the birth of Jesus in the East, he showed that Jesus had come not just for the Jews, but for all people.  He was declaring that faith in Jesus Christ is the religion that he meant for the whole world.  There shouldn’t be any other religion in existence.  But even after 2000 years we see false religions everywhere.  It’s been 2000 years and the world is till full of darkness.  We live in a world where the light of truth shines, but where it seems that most people prefer to crawl back into the darkness of the caves that Jesus came to rescue us from. Truth is the first essential, and the truth about God and his relation to man is something that sinful people simply aren’t willing to acknowledge.  We try to find all sorts of ways around it.  Man has invented all sorts of religions and philosophies to try to fix what we know deep, down, inside is wrong with us – but none of them is based on that critical truth.  To be true, a religion has to have been revealed by God himself.  That’s what we have in Jesus Christ.  We have it here.  This is what was revealed to the magi when God called them to go on a journey to Bethlehem to worship the King of the Jews. But that wasn’t the only time that God declared faith in Jesus Christ as the true religion.  It was that from the very beginning.  There was a time when God had the entire human race in front of him.  He taught this religion, this faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man to them.  In the garden of Eden he told Adam and Eve how the seed of the woman would rise up and crush the serpent’s head.  God pointed Adam and Eve and all their descendants to Christ.  They didn’t know his name, but faith in him was to be their religion. God has never recognised any other religion – in fact he’s condemned every other belief system.  To him the greatest offence has always been that men and women ignore and pervert whatever knowledge they have of God and reject true faith in the one he sent.  As punishment for our rejection of revealed truth, God has allowed men and women to suffer the consequences of their perversions.  St. Paul reminds us that because, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful, and because they changed the truth of God into a lie, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things that are not fitting, and darkened their minds.  The rejection of the truth always has serious consequences. Through his prophets God repeatedly proclaimed that he would not permit the Gentiles to go on forever in their false, man-made religion.  When the time was right a call would go out to all the nations – a call for them to leave their own ways and come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the God whom he revealed.  When God came to earth to reveal himself in Christ, this event was announced to the Gentiles by a star.  And before God withdrew his visible presence from us, Christ gave his followers a command to preach the good news of salvation to everyone.  He said of himself: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”  His disciples proclaimed, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  St. Paul, in reference to the time before Christ had been revealed to the Gentiles, wrote: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.” Biblical history shows us that faith in Christ is the only way that God intended.  The flood wiped out any other religion and left Noah and his family as the keepers of his truth.  When they failed God called Abraham and his descendants to guard his truth.  There were always believers outside of Israel, but the Jews were the guardians.  In the New Testament we see God’s good news proclaimed to the entire world.  Israel may have preserved God’s truth, but through Christ, God turned it outward to all men and women and all peoples and nations because sin is something that everyone is guilty of.  We’re all sinners and God sent his truth as the cure for our sin.  Today there isn’t a nation on the earth where you won’t find faithful followers of Christ.  Sometimes we hear talk of a need for “one world religion” – we already have it.  The only religion for you and me and the whole world is faith in Jesus Christ. But why then, if faith in Jesus Christ is the world religion, do so many people reject it?  Maybe even worse, why do so many who profess to be Christian totally fail to show any evidence of that faith? Why are there still those who reject the Gospel?  You’d think that something with Almighty God behind it would be different in that respect – you’d think that God would say it and everyone would hear it and accept it, but that’s not what happens.  This isn’t anything new – we’ve had this problem from the beginning.  Remember that when the magi came to Jerusalem to worship the King, nobody seemed particularly glad or happy over the Saviour.  Those in the city who took any notice were actually upset.  Herod was afraid.  Nobody joined the magi when they made the final trip to Bethlehem.  But that didn’t stop them.  They knew that men love darkness instead of light.  The good news had won them over.  They put their trust in the Messiah of Israel.  They wanted the salvation he offered.  The unbelief of others didn’t shake their resolve to seek and find him – because they knew that he was the only hope for a dying world. People still reject the gospel today for the same reason.  Herod was afraid that the Messiah would take his throne away.  The people were afraid that he’d disrupt business as usual.  They were happy with where they were and that took precedence over anything the Messiah would bring.  We’re no different 2000 years later.  People love material things or they look for their own power and don’t take any interest in Christ.  A lack of interest, a fear of change, or an upset in life are the natural attitude of blind and sinful men.  When we are no longer obsessed with material things and when we’re no longer indifferent to the gospel, then we know that God has worked a miracle in us.  When that happens we’ve been born a second time and have been given a new nature.  God has poured his love into our hearts and that love drives out the love of self and the love of the material world. But it doesn’t stop inside us.  His love in our hearts reaches out to everyone else.  It drives out selfishness and makes us think of others.  The love of Christ in our hearts is the love that gave life for all men and women.  We hold the faith that is the only hope for the world – the only religion that will save.  We need to be sharing that good news.  We’ve seen the star.  We’ve found the Saviour.  We’ve come with the magi to Bethlehem and have seen the true God.  We must learn to worship him and worship him only. This is the divine solution for the problems of the world.  But how is the message to get out?  When he finished his work of redemption, Our Lord withdrew his visible presence from the earth and ascended to heaven.  But before he withdrew his visible body, he created another body for himself that continues his work of salvation on earth.  This is the body that has him as its head – it’s his Church, the body of all faithful people.  In Ephesians, St. Paul writes, “He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body.”  And in 1 Corinthians, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  He is the head over all things and under his feet all things were put for the Church – his body – which has been  committed to the evangelisation of the world.  His last words to his body here on earth were: “Go and make disciples of all nations” by baptising and teaching.  “And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”  We, the ones who profess to love him and for his sake to love our fellow men and women, are to function as members of the body in which he continues his presence on earth. If we fail in this calling we’ve failed Our Lord.  The members of his body, united with him by love, aren’t supposed to do his will like slaves either.  He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15).  Making disciples of all nations by baptising and teaching shouldn’t be a chore.  It’s an arrangement between loving friends – a sharing in the work that brought God to earth and cost him his life.  It’s a partnership in God’s divine work of salvation! Each week when we come to Holy Communion we partake of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine and in doing this we proclaim his death, resurrection, and ascension.  In that communion we should be reminded of the fellowship we have with our Saviour.  He has chosen to make us his partners.  He is our head and he contributes everything he’s done to redeem us.  But as partners we have to make our contribution too – however imperfect it may be.  For our part we need to take up the task of sharing the good news of Christ’s salvation with the world. As we proclaim Our Lord as our Saviour and King and enter again into that partnership with him by accepting the gifts he has given to us, we declare our eager willingness to function as members of Christ’s body and to assume the obligation of making disciples of all the nations. Please pray with me: Our Father, you manifested your Son to the Gentiles with the leading of a star.  We ask that you would grant us that grace to be that star to a world of lost people today.  Guide us, Lord, and let us be your light in our dark world, leading men and women to the Saviour, in whose name we pray.  Amen.
Bible Text: Isaiah 60:1-6 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon on for The Epiphany Isaiah 60:1-6 by William Klock I want to look this evening at our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 60:1-6.  Consider that Isaiah wrote these words when Ahaz was king of Judah.  There were a lot of evil kings, but Ahaz was one of the worst and he was dragging the nation down with him into sin and darkness. It wouldn’t be that many years before the people who had been called to be a light to the Gentiles, would be virtually wiped out.  For years the people of Judah, this small little nation, had lived under threat.  They were surrounded by super powers: Syria to the north, Egypt to the south, and the biggest and strongest, Assyrian, to the east.  Little Judah was the crossroads of the world.  It was a good place to stand as a light to the nations, but it was also territory that every great nation wanted for itself.  Eventually the Babylonians overran Judah and when they were gone everything was destroyed.  The cities were demolished, the farms and crops were destroyed, and even in Jerusalem, the great Temple was in ruins – and worst of all, everyone but the poorest of the poor had been marched off to exile in a foreign land across the desert.  It doesn’t get much darker than that.  The Jews in exile were a people almost totally without hope.  To them it looked like the light had been extinguished. And yet into the darkness Isaiah spoke the word of the Lord, speaking of another time in the future that would be just as dark.  And yet into that darkness would come the true light – the Christ. Isaiah’s vision was true.  When Jesus came into the world there were a few people who had eyes open to the light – people like Zechariah and Elizabeth and Joseph and Mary.  There were people who were looking for the light and knew it when they saw it like Simeon and Anna.  There were some shepherd from the countryside near Bethlehem who saw the light and some magi from the East who came, drawn by the light, looking for the King of the Jews.  But aside from those few people, no one was really very concerned about the Saviour who had come.  In Bethlehem everyone else slept through the night.  Judea and Galilee had no idea about the light that had come.  Isaiah writes about the time of the coming Messiah and says in verse 2: For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples… But Isaiah could write that about our own time too.  For two thousand years the light has been shining.  It’s been taken to every part of the world.  It’s been shined in all sorts of dark corners.  But there are still people living in darkness everywhere.  There are whole nations that are closed off to the light.  Worse there are whole nations that once carried the light and that called themselves Christian, that have all but lost it.  “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people.”  But into that darkness Isaiah cries – and I have to see him doing it with great exuberance: Arise, shine, for your light has come… (Isaiah 60:1) What’s he saying?  Well, first we need to ask what the “light” is.  Isaiah wasn’t writing about his own time.  There was a sense in which the Jews had a light to shine, but Isaiah’s talking about a future light.  The whole prophecy is a vision of the future – of what the story the Gospels tell us. Think of the Christmas Gospel that St. John wrote: “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….The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9).  Simeon, the old priest understood the prophecy when he held Jesus in his arms.  He sang out, “My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and  for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32). When Isaiah cries out “Your light has come!” he’s talking about Jesus.  When Jesus came he brought his light into the world, and yet when he ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven, the light didn’t leave us.  Jesus indwells each of his people in the person of his Holy Spirit.  If we are in him, we carry his light with us and before he left he commissioned us to carry that light to the world – to preach the Gospel to all peoples and nations.  St Peter wrote, “We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 2:19). As you and I preach Jesus Christ we shine the light of Christ into the souls of the men and women around us and as his light shines, the Holy Spirit draws men and women into relationship with himself.  Isaiah proclaims: “Your light has come!”  We’re in the dark, but the day is coming.  The Day Star is going to rise in our hearts.  Through him the men and women living in darkness become children of light as God calls us into his marvellous light.  Isaiah pointed a despairing people to a new covenant when the salvation that appeared in Jesus would drive away the darkness and God’s kingdom would be built and would grow to fill the whole earth.  Think of the stone in Daniel’s vision, that was cut from the great mountain and sent by God crashing into that great statue of Gold, and Silver, and Bronze and Iron – that smashed the image of dark and evil earthly kingdoms to pieces and then expanded to fill the whole earth.  The light of Christ was going to fill it all.  And the light of Christ fills the whole earth because his kingdom people carry his light with them.  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  Isaiah’s light is the light of Christ shining in and through us. And that explains what he means when he says, “Arise, shine.”  That’s the second important message in these verses.  Isaiah spoke those words to Israel long before the Gentiles heard them.  The call went first to Israel: The Light – the Saviour – is coming.  Be on the watch.  Be alert lest the time of God’s salvation pass you by while you’re asleep on duty.  And having received God’s salvation, Isaiah calls them not to hide the light.  Don’t put it under a basket, but hold it high.  Hold it high enough that it chases away the darkness around you – high enough to draw the lost out of their darkness. Most of the Jews didn’t listen and God’s salvation passed them by.  But for the few who were awake and on guard when Jesus came, they heard Isaiah and through those first apostles the light was held high and went from Jerusalem, to Judea, and eventually to the whole world.  Thanks to them the light went from family to family and from neighbour to neighbour and eventually to our own countries and our own ancestors and then to each of us. But Isaiah’s call isn’t just a call to ancient Israel or to the Apostles.  The fact that you and I are walking in the light should be a reminder that his call is to you and me too.  Keep walking in the light.  Even the most mature of us still has dark corners we’ve kept closed off to the work of the Spirit of Jesus.  Open them up.  Let him lighten every dark corner of your life.  And as our lights grow brighter, remember that the world is still full of people walking around in the dark.  Be a light in every place you walk.  Be a light at work and in your family and in the church.  Live for others.  Spread the light.  That was the power of the apostles and early Church.  We’ve become complacent.  We’ve got the light, but we aren’t sharing it.  We aren’t holding it high.  The early Church spread and grew because those first Christians were excited about the light.  They remembered what the darkness was like.  They’d been rescued and all they could think of doing was plunging back into it – but this time with their bright light so that they could find others and save them from the darkness.  We only have so much time.  The day is almost over.  Night is coming, but there’s still a lot of work to do in the Lord’s harvest and the labourers are few.  We need to get serious and get busy about the Lord’s work while we still have daylight. Maybe we aren’t busy because we think it’s a waste of time.  Isaiah says, “No! Lift up your eyes all around, and see… And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.  Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.  Then 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. A 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.  (Isaiah 60:4-6) Brothers and sisters, that’s the Christmas message and it’s for every child of God.  It doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t have personal application to each of us.  Think about that: “Your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  That’s for you.  The Saviour will fill your heart with the light of his grace and drive away the night of sin.  The light shines for you and for me and he wants us to see his glory – the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. It’s a holy light and if we receive it, it’s going to shake us up.  I’m always amazed at how casually we’re prone to coming to the Lord’s Table.  Here he gives us himself to eat and drink.  It’s a sacramental sign of the reality that when we receive his light we make him our own.  When we come to his Table, we meet him face to face in the bread and wine and should be reminded here, of all places, that in his love for us he gave his own body and blood.  When we come to the Table we should be coming in such a way that we’re reminded of all the dark corners we’ve still got in our lives.  The fact is, no matter how often we invite the light to shine into those corners, each time we look, we’re going to find another dark one.  At the same time that it’s so often a relief to purge the darkness, it can be discouraging to see the darkness that we don’t seem to be able to get rid of. We need Isaiah’s assurance: “Your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”  The light gives hope.  At the Table I like to think of the words of David from Psalm 112:4, “Unto the godly there ariseth up light in the darkness; he is merciful, loving, and righteous.”  As Isaiah says to us in verse 5, “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult.”  When?  When you experience the Lord as your light and your salvation.  From the Table we can go back to the daily grind with new confidence and hope that our battles and struggles with the darkness will never be in vain. And as we go back to the grind of the world from the Lord’s Table our eyes should be opened again to the darkness in the world – to the fact that so many continue to walk in darkness.  The light has come, but they haven’t seen it.  Again, Isaiah tells us, “Arise, shine!”  Keep holding the light high.  We all know people that make us wonder if they’ll ever see the light.  You’ve been holding the light in their face, maybe for years, and yet they still don’t see it.  Isaiah’s saying, “Don’t give up!  Your job is to shine the light, but opening the eyes is the Spirit’s job.  As long as you keep holding the light, it’s never in vain.  Have hope and trust God.   Keep casting the net.  It’s true that we’ll never catch every soul we cast the net for, but it’s also just as true that we will catch every soul that God, in his good will, intends for us to catch. Again, don’t fall asleep on duty.  Isaiah may have given the prophecy over 2500 years ago, but God is still fulfilling it today.  As you come to the Lord’s Table this evening, leave with renewed light and proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  The day is coming when Jesus will come back – when the Light himself will be here on earth and fills the whole world.  We may get discouraged today as we feel like we’re sometimes stumbling around in the half-light, but he has promised that our labour is not in vain and when his light fills the earth on the Last Day he’ll open our eyes to the fact that he has kept his promise.  We’ll see that we didn’t labour in vain.  I think we’ll be surprised to find that we’ve brought more to the light than we ever knew about – all because of our faithfulness in holding it high.  So, brothers and sisters, arise and shine, because your light has come, and the Glory of the Lord has risen upon you!
Bible Text: Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Epiphany Isaiah 60:1-6 & St. Matthew 2:1-12 Epiphany is about light.  It’s about the light of Christ come into the world.  In the earliest days of the Church, before Christmas was on our calendar, Epiphany was the great feast of what we now think of as the Christmas season.  It was the celebration of the light come into the world.  In the Eastern Church, Epiphany is still their “Christmas”.  In the West we’ve separated the two, but the theme is the same: at Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of the eternal Son of God in the God-Man, Jesus.  We think of Mary and Joseph with their newborn baby in the stable and of those Jewish shepherds the angels sent to worship him.  The light that had been promised for so long had come.  And yet at Epiphany, which closes the Christmas season, we’re reminded again of the light, but this time the Church directs our thoughts back to the wise men from the east: those kings or astrologers who followed God’s guidance, given by a star, to worship the king.  The Church points us to those kings from the east to remind us that Jesus came not only to be a light to the Jews, but a light to the whole world; he came to Jew and Gentile alike.  Up to that point the Church was only for the descendants of Abraham, but in Jesus, God opened the Church to all who will believe and trust in the Saviour. Today is about light, and yet how often do we take that light for granted?  We live in a world of light.  Even physically speaking, we live in an age of electricity.  It’s hard to imagine what it was like even a century or more ago when work stopped at sunset and people gathered around campfires and fireplaces or around candles and kerosene lamps with the darkness all around.  But we also live in a world of spiritual light.  As much as we see spiritual darkness around us, you and I live in a world that has been dramatically impacted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ for 2000 years.  We live in a world this side of the cross of Calvary and this side of the empty tomb in Gethsemane.  We live in a world where Satan has been conquered and bound by the victory of our Lord.  We’re prone to forgetting what it was like on the other side of the cross. Close your eyes and imagine darkness.  When I was about five years old a missionary from central Africa visited our church and showed a film about the place where he had been ministering for decades.  The movie was scary.  It talked about and showed the sorts of evil things that Christian missionaries encountered in that culture: evil gods and witch doctors, magic and voodoo, curses and blood sacrifices.  And yet as scary as those things were, all of them were subject to the lordship of Jesus Christ through his victory over Satan at the cross.  As evil as evil is in our world, it was worse before the light of Christ came.  Think back to the things we’ve studied in Genesis: to Noah’s time, when the earth was full of violence—so full that God could declare that there was only one righteous man left.  Consider the pagan mindset that built the tower of Babel; men and women had lost all knowledge of God.  They practiced sacrifices and rituals—they worshiped—in an effort to control gods they couldn’t understand or predict.  Think of Abraham, living amongst the Canaanites—some of the most spiritually depraved people the world has every known.  Their worship involved ritual prostitution and the sacrifice of their own children.  Think of the men of Sodom, every one of them down to the last man, ready to commit sexual violence against God’s messengers.  There is darkness in the world today, but little compares to the darkness that was in the world before Jesus came. Brothers and sisters, God has given us his light.  But with that gift comes responsibility: he calls his people to be light in the midst of the world’s darkness.  God has always called his people to be light in the darkness.  Think of his command to Abraham: walk before me and be blameless.  God had promised that Abraham would be a blessing to the nations.  It started with Abraham demonstrating to the pagans around him what it looked like to live in the light.  And yet how often have God’s people retreated?  How often have they—have we—taken the light and retreated into our churches, closed the shutters, and locked the doors?  How often have we even abandoned the light?  The people of Israel and Judah were repeatedly taken to task for living in the dark when they should have been living in the light.  The prophets warned them again and again: The nations know we worship one whom we believe to be the one and true God; they know he has called us be different; but they mock our unbelief and our lack of faith, jeering at us and asking, “Where is their God?”  God calls us to be different; he calls us to be light.  But how often does the world look at us and see nothing different than what’s in the darkness? Even at the best of times, even when Israel was living before God the way he had called her to live, she was in bondage.  Last Sunday we read from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians that before Jesus came his people were slaves to the law.  God had given them light, he’d called them to live in that light, but compared to Jesus, it was a dim light.  The law given through Moses taught the people what holiness looked like, but it gave them no way to live up to it.  Before Jesus came, God’s law was written on tablets of stone: something to aspire to, but impossible to keep.  And so the people offered sacrifices at the temple for the forgiveness of their sins—for all the times they broke the law.  And those sacrifices were made day in and day out, animal after animal slaughtered by the priests, and a river of blood running into the valley below.  There was no permanent escape from the darkness.  The gentiles lives in bondage to their pagan darkness and false gods, but even the Jews lived in bondage to the law.  They had the light, but no way to fully live it out.  It was tempting for them to give up hope: either to retreat into the temple, that one place where they could be directly in God’s light, or to give up the light completely and walk in the same darkness as the pagans. In the midst of that darkness, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah.  These are the words of our Old Testament lesson.  In ancient times they were read for today’s Epistle.  God calls his people to live in hope.  Look at Isaiah 60:1-2: Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  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. Think of the Christmas Gospel written by St. 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….The true light, which enlightens everyone, was come into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9).  When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to present him in the temple forty days after his birth, the baby was greeted by Simeon who had spent his life waiting for the fulfilment of this prophecy.  He took Jesus in his arms and blessed God singing: Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32) Isaiah had declared: “Arise, shine for your light has come!”  Simeon held the light in his arms as he sang praises to God, knowing that he could die in peace having lived to see its coming.  In Jesus the light came.  He shone his light by preaching the kingdom of God, by calling men and women to repentance, and by demonstrating his power over Satan and over the curse that fell on Adam because of his sin.  When Jesus died he paid the penalty for our sin and when he rose on the third day, he conquered sin and death and Satan.  Then he ascended back to heaven where he sits at the Father’s right hand to rule his kingdom—his Church. It’s interesting that when we celebrate the feast of the Ascension, we extinguish the Paschal candle after reading the Ascension Gospel.  Jesus, the light of the world returned to his father and so we douse the Easter candle that symbolises his presence.  And yet when Jesus ascended, he didn’t leave us in the dark.  In fact, he left precisely because he didn’t plan to leave us in the dark.  He left so that he could send his Spirit and it’s his Spirit who changes everything.  In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit would occasionally fill someone to perform some special task, as he did with Bezalel and Oholiab to inspire them as craftsman when they oversaw the building of the tabernacle or as he did with Samson when he pulled down the temple of Dagon.  And yet in each case the Spirit left when the task was done.  In the New Covenant, Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to fill us perpetually.  In our baptism he pours his Spirit into us and it’s that Holy Spirit who unites us to Jesus, making us part of his body, and who causes the new life given by Jesus to flow into us and to empower us.  It’s the Holy Spirit who takes God’s law, which was written on stone tablets in the Old Covenant, and who engraves it on our hearts.  The Jews lived with the light of God—his holiness—on the outside.  We now live with the light of God in our hearts—on the inside.  And, too, we have his Word, spoken by the prophets and apostles, still with us.  St. Peter talks about it saying: We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to lamp shining in a dark place.  (2 Peter 2:19) And, brothers and sisters, when the light shines through us—when we live the new life that Jesus gives—we draw others to the light.  That’s how God has designed his kingdom to work.  It grows, but it grows as God sovereignly draws new men and women to his light shining through us.  Think again of the thick and desperate darkness that surrounded God’s people in the days of Isaiah.  The Jews lived in fear of the nations around them.  They were at the crossroad of the ancient world and nations like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon all wanted their territory.  The nations came to Jerusalem, but they came wanting to conquer and to take.  And yet Isaiah writes about day when the nations will come because of the light and they will come, not to conquer and to take, but to give and to bless.  Look at verse 3: And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. The light—Jesus—will turn the hearts of the nations to God.  They’ll be drawn to the kingdom by the light that they see in us.  In the verses that follow, Isaiah declares that the wealth of the nations shall be brought by those seeking the light: the abundance of the sea, the wealth of nations, and multitude of camels, and—in verse 6—gold and frankincense. That gift of gold and frankincense point to today’s Gospel: to St. Matthew’s account of the wise men coming to worship Jesus.  We’re all familiar with the story.  These wealthy and powerful men, probably from Persia, saw a star in the sky.  They may well have been familiar with some of the Old Testament prophets who had foretold the future birth of the Messiah King.  And so, using the star as their guide, they travelled to Bethlehem where they worshiped the King and gave him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.  These were the first Gentiles, kings who represented the pagan nations, to come in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to worship and bless the light and to seek God’s kingdom.  They, themselves, brought prophetic gifts that bore witness to the roles that Jesus would play as he brought light to the world.  They brought gold, a gift for a king; they brought frankincense, a costly incense used to worship one who was God; and they brought myrrh, a valuable ointment used in embalming and a gift that pointed to the sacrifice that Jesus would make at the cross. And yet, friends, the gifts that the wise men brought point to ways in which you and I can worship and bear witness to the light and, as we do so, shine our own lights brightly in the darkness.  Jesus has given us the gift of eternal life by giving us his own self.  That’s grace!  We didn’t earn it.  We didn’t deserve it.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  And yet we ought to respond to grace by offering ourselves back to Jesus.  I like the way Pius Parsch put it: “The man of grace likewise brings to God the gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.  Gold is the most precious of all metals.  We, too, must give the most precious treasure of our hearts.  This is love of God and also the fidelity and purity of our aspirations.  It must not be simply gilt that glitters, but purest gold that has been tried by fire.  Incense is the symbol of our prayer life, our dedication to God and our piety.  Myrrh is the symbol of our suffering.  Christ the bridegroom travels the way of the cross, and His bride can take no other way.  Love, devotion, and suffering are the fruits of the tree of grace.” Our light is often dim—it’s not as bright as it should be—because we’re unwilling to offer the real treasure of our hearts to God.  Instead of pure gold, we bring him gilt and glitter.  Like Cain, we offer God the things that are left over after we’ve met our own needs and wants, instead of giving back to him off the top and living in faith, trusting him to take care of us.  Too often we’re happy to trust him with the things that are easy to give to him, but we hold back the things that are hard to give up, whether our finances, our time, or our relationships. In the tabernacle there was a perpetual cloud of incense rising up from the altar, symbolizing the prayers and worship of the people.  Do we live our lives in the context of constant prayer and worship?  Or do we pray only when we can fit it in?  Do we join our brothers and sisters for worship only when it’s convenient?  Jesus draws a connection between worship and obedience: If you love me, keep my commandments.  And yet how often are we only obedient when it’s convenient for us? And, finally, think of the myrrh.  Jesus suffered for us—even unto death.  The eternal Son of God, the Word by whom God created all things, humbled himself and became a human being.  And he didn’t cause himself to be born of a wealthy queen.  No, he came to us as the son of a poor, teenage girl and wife of a carpenter.  And the King of glory didn’t stop there.  He endured the unjust abuse of unbelievers.  When he was arrested and beaten, he didn’t call an end to his suffering in the high priests court.  When Pilate’s soldiers beat him and put a crown of thorns on his head, he didn’t stop—that still wasn’t enough suffering.  No, he allowed himself to be paraded through Jerusalem and across the valley to Calvary where they nailed him to a cross and let him hang there until he died.  He didn’t deserve any of that, and yet he suffered humiliation, beating, and death for our sake.  How willing are we to suffer for his?  Why did the early Church grow so rapidly?  In large part, because is was watered with the blood of martyrs who were willing to shine for Jesus even when it meant their own deaths.  By comparison you and I have it easy.  And yet, how often are unwilling to suffer even a little bit for Jesus and for his kingdom? Brothers and sisters, the light of God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ who gave his all to conquer sin and death for our sake.  Let us be ready to give him the treasure of our hearts, to give him our prayers and our worship, and to be prepared to suffer that his light might shine brightly through us in the midst of the darkness. Let us pray: O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your beloved Son to the gentiles: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may give him our own gold, frankincense, and myrrh and manifest his light in the midst of the world’s darkness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. Sermons on the Liturgy (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1953), p. 53.