January 6, 2019
‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6)
“It is too light a thing... to raise up the tribes of Jacob.” Israel is awaiting a Messiah, who has been promised to them by the prophets. That is why when the wise men asked about him, who was born king of the Jews, Herod asked where the Christ, which is the Greek word for Messiah, was to be born. The people of Israel were waiting for the promised Messiah, who would rule the Jews. That’s what the Prophet Micah promised, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” This is why Herod, an Edomite and not a Jew is so worried. He thinks that this descendent of King David will dethrone him and be king of the Jews in his stead. But what does the Lord say? “It is too light a thing...” Jesus Christ was not born simply to rule the Jewish nation. That is too little a thing for the Word-made-flesh to do. He comes to be a Light for the nations!
What does it mean that Christ is made as a light for the nations? Light here refers to salvation as is made clear in the very next phrase, “that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The contrast between light and darkness is a major theme in Scripture. Light symbolizes truth, goodness, life, happiness, and salvation. Darkness symbolizes ignorance, sin, grief, woe, damnation.1 Light is good. It represents God’s glory. Isaiah 60 states, “Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Those who are saved will shine like the stars of heaven. Darkness is bad. Those who dwell in darkness dwell in unbelief, they live in sin and are under the dominion of the devil. Those who are condemned to hell, Jesus says, are cast out into the outer darkness.
This visual language is incredibly easy to understand. You lock your doors at night. Those, who do evil do it under the cover of darkness. Those who get drunk get drunk at night, St. Paul says (1 Thess. 5:7). So, obviously we want to dwell in the light as St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5, “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).” And St. John says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7)
Yet, there is a problem. Darkness covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples. Light exposes what is hidden beneath the darkness, which is wickedness and sin. That is not pleasant. Those who do what is evil under the cover of darkness do not want their wickedness exposed. And those who live under a figurative darkness, that is, they live ignorant that what they are doing is wrong and displeasing to their Father in heaven, do not want to become aware that what they do is wrong. That is why Jesus says, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
And so, it goes, robbers who break into a house under the cover of darkness do not want the flashlight of a policeman to shine on them. Then their evil work is exposed. The same goes for murderers, adulterers, liars, and all other types of criminals and sinners. No one wants the evil of their hearts to be exposed to the public or even to their own eyes. And so, like rats fleeing the rays of the sun, sinners and unbelievers shirk from the light of Christ, because the light of Christ is truth and the truth reveals all secret things.
This is very true. Light exposes darkness. Righteousness exposes sin. The light of Christ exposes the works of Satan and all under his control. And yet, what does God say through the prophet Isaiah? “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The light of Christ is salvation. Christ does not shine his light on us simply to expose our guilt like the policeman catching the criminal. The light of Jesus changes those who dwell in darkness, so that they might dwell in light.
Our Lord spoke in John chapter 8, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (vs. 12) When Christ sent St. Paul to preach to the Gentiles, he told him that he sent him “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18) And that is exactly what Paul preached as we can read from his letter to the Colossians where he wrote in chapter 1, “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (vss. 12-14)
And so, we should not shirk from the light of Christ, but rejoice that its rays have found us. But how is this done? Christ says in Isaiah 49, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword.” Christ does not bring salvation with brute force. He is not a policeman catching criminals. His sword is the words of his mouth. Jesus preaches. He calls sinners to repent of their sins and believe in his Gospel, that he has borne their sins himself and washed them away in his blood. The light of Christ does not simply expose sin, but it vanquishes sin, erases it from the memory of God, and makes those who were stained by it radiant and white.
This is how St. Paul is able to tell us in Romans 1l, “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (vs. 12) Paul does not teach us to reform ourselves by our own powers. He is telling us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ Jesus for forgiveness. The light of Christ can be uncomfortable, because it calls your sin, sin. But the light of Christ also removes your sins from you by placing it on Jesus, who in return clothes you in his own righteousness.
This is what the preaching of Christ does for sinners. It gives them a solution to their sins. The solution is forgiveness won by Christ. This is not your work, but God’s, as St. Paul says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son.” God has done this through his word. He has baptized you into his name and placed in your heart the Holy Spirit. He daily and richly forgives all your sins for the sake of Jesus’ blood and merit. Every time you hear the preaching of Christ crucified or hear the absolution or eat Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament, and believe it, the light of Christ has removed whatever darkness you have and armed you with the light of Christ.
The light of Christ makes you righteous and free from sin before you have done anything good, purely by the work of Christ. Yet, you cannot walk in the light of Christ without yourself shining with that reflective glow. This is why Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Let the light, which God has put in you shine!
The wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh just as Isaiah said that they would. Yet, the wise men were just the first of many, who would bring their treasures of light to the source of light. Scripture says that all nations will come to this light and bring their gifts. As so they have. Wherever the light of Christ has shone through the preaching of the Gospel, Christians have sung praises to their King. They have confessed him before men and God, brought their tithes and offerings with a free heart to further the preaching of the Gospel, they have beautified God’s beautiful house by showing love to one another, by repenting of their sins and forgiving one another.
Isn’t this a marvelous thing? Those who were covered in thick darkness, stained with the filth of sin, Christ has made to shine with beautiful light, which he will use to beautify his already beautiful house. He has joined us foreigners with his native Israelites to be one nation, which shines brightly throughout the world. This is the work of him, who was called from his mother’s womb, Jesus Christ. He has called us out of darkness to be children of light, And, he gathers us to beautify his beautify house even today. So, let us shine with the light given to us, singing praises, bringing gifts, confessing Christ and rejoicing in our shared salvation, and in this way the Lord will deck his halls with light. Amen.