Epiphany + January 4 & 7, 2018
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6
Last year was the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Thousands, if not millions, visited Luther sites in Germany. Religious tourism brought in millions of euros to places like Wittenberg, where Luther taught and posted his ninety-five theses. Faithful Lutherans from all over the world visited the Wartburg Castle, where Luther spent nine months. They spent money in the city of Worms, where Luther boldly proclaimed to the Emperor, “Here I stand.” Yes, last year, religious tourism was a big event in Germany because of Martin Luther and the Reformation anniversary.
That’s a common phenomenon. Places where famous spiritual leaders did great things are hot spots for religious tourists. In our Old Testament Lesson, the prophet Isaiah foretells how religious tourism would come to the kingdom of Judah. Isaiah says, "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you… the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come... And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD." (v. 4-6)
People from all over the world would come to Judah. They would not come to do battle and try to conquer it, as so many nations had done in the past. No, instead, these people from all nations would come in peace. They would bring their riches with them. Most of all, these foreign, religious tourists would praise and glorify the Lord for his great gift to the world.
Isaiah is, of course, talking about the birth of Jesus. He is foretelling what Saint Matthew described in our Gospel Lesson, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea… Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." (Matt. 2:1)
You could say the Magi were the first religious tourists. They came from a foreign country. They brought wealth with them and left it behind. They came to see a great religious leader who did great things.
Well, almost. Jesus really hadn’t done anything notable yet. Sure, true God took on human flesh in the mystery of the incarnation. But hardly anybody knew about that. The Magi did not have to wait in line for their turn to catch a glimpse of this baby who was also true God. There were no throngs of tourists cramming into Bethlehem. But the Magi came.
We don’t know much about the Magi. We don’t know their home country. We don’t even know how they knew that the star they followed was a sign of the birth of Jesus. All the Bible really tells us is that they saw the star. They came to Bethlehem to see Jesus. They worshiped Jesus by giving him gold, incense, and myrrh. Then they returned to their homeland, never to be heard from again.
So it’s not the Magi that are the “star of the show” on Epiphany. Nor is it the town of Bethlehem. The “star” of Epiphany is Jesus. Jesus is the Light of the world. Jesus is the reason to visit to Bethlehem, not so much in body, but more importantly, in spirit. The Magi’s visit, along with Isaiah’s prophecy, call us to action. On this festival of Epiphany, God’s Word urges us: See the light. Come to the light. Worship the light.
Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah calls Jesus the light of the nation of Judah. Isaiah says to the Jews, "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." (v. 1-3)
This light was no ordinary light. It was a brilliant light. It was a light to overpower great darkness— not ordinary darkness, but the spiritual darkness of sin and unbelief that covers all humanity. This light had this power over the darkness of evil because it is the Light that comes from the LORD. This light is Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us how you can see Jesus, the Light of the Lord. In 2 Corinthians Paul says, "God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."(2 Cor. 4:6) In other words, God gave you spiritual eyes to see that Jesus is the glory of God. That simply means God gave you faith to see Jesus as true God and your Savior.
So see the light. That is, believe in Jesus. Know that he is true God and true man. Agree to everything the Bible says about Jesus. Most of all, trust that Jesus came for you. Jesus came to be your Savior from the darkness of unbelief and the deep shadows of sin. Jesus came to drive out your rebellion against God. Jesus came to give you his perfect holiness to cover you and to make you pure and innocent in the sight of God. Jesus came to make you shine like stars and the burn brightly with faith, hope, and love.
Jesus came as your true Light. See the light. Come to the light. That is, make it your goal to visit Jesus like the Magi did. The Magi had faith. They acted on that faith. They went to Jesus.
Now, you cannot see Jesus the way the Magi saw him. But you do come to Jesus every time you call on him as your Savior. You are coming to Jesus every time you say, Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Dear Jesus, do not treat me as my sins deserve. But wash me. Purify me. Lift the burden of guilt that crushes me down to my bones. Lord, by your precious blood and your innocent sufferings and death, make peace between me, a sinner, and your heavenly Father.
Yes, come to the Light of Jesus in sincere repentance. Come also with a heart that is longing for God’s mercy. Come with a faith that expects God’s grace, peace, and forgiveness because of Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul was talking about in our epistle lesson. He says, "In [Christ Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence." (Eph. 3:12)
So, yes, approach God. Come to the light. Worship the light. Saint Matthew tells us in our Gospel lesson, "On coming to the house, [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." (Matt. 2:11)
The Magi show us two key parts of worship. First, they bowed down. These important men humbled themselves before a little child. They recognized that Jesus was the King of kings and God’s own Son. Then they gave their treasures. That’s a model for us. We must come to worship with great respect and deep reverence. So no Christian ever dare say, Church is boring. Hearing the same old message of God’s love gets old. Taking communion every week isn’t so special. And giving offerings to the church puts a strain on my budget when I am barely scraping by.
No, we need to repent of all those dark thoughts. Praising Jesus, coming to church, hearing the gospel, receiving the sacrament, and giving our offerings—all these acts of worship show that the light of Christ shines on us, in us, and through us. Saint John says in his first epistle, "If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by 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, purifies us from all sin." (I John 1:5-7)
Jesus Christ is the Light who saves us by his blood and purifies us from all sin. So see the light. Come to the light. Worship the light. Find your life in the light of Christ, now and forever.