Epiphany Reflections: Isaiah 60

Darkness still covers the earth.  Though the days are getting longer, the sun continues to set quite early. 4:37 pm, today, to be exact. It rose at 7:29 this morning, giving us nine hours and seven minutes and 57 seconds of sunlight… Darkness still covers the earth.

Just ask my mother-in-law. She’ll tell you that it’s terribly dark, made darker by the deep depression that always chokes her at this time of the year.  Our neighbors will tell you the same thing. Some are having a hard time keeping the heat on.  And it’s not because their boilers have broken down, but because they can’t pay the bills. They know that utility companies can’t shut them off during cold winter days, but the day is still coming, when they will scramble… and though it will be spring, when the sun stays longer in the sky, the darkness of those days looms for them…

Darkness still covers the earth. It wraps the globe with the dust and smoke of war. Syrians fight each other with pummeling blows. Afghans and Iraqis exchange explosive rounds set in motion by our actions in those places… and we watch from afar and shake our heads, knowing that it’s not what we intended… None of our leaders want Iraqi mothers to bury sons killed in continuing skirmishes. None want inter-tribal warfare to threaten mothers and children shopping in markets. Darkness…

Perhaps even in our own hearts, darkness is found…  We resent the actions of another. We look with disdain upon those who interrupt our plans, who may not move as quickly or proficiently as we’d like them to, whose incompetence continues to cause us trouble… We find darkness as we heal the wounds of abusive relationships, as we grieve the loss of a parent or a spouse, as we wrestle with poor choices made by a child. 

Darkness still covers the earth… thick darkness envelopes the people. 

But the Lord rises like a star shining in the east.  He draws wisemen to himself.  Shepherds and angels fill the sky.  The Lord shines in the darkness, radiantly beaming with hope for you and for me. The glory of our Lord dawns in our lives, even as we feel the grip of light’s absence.

The Lord rises like a shining light… bringing comfort and peace…

And our eyes turn toward him as he is lifted up, as he rises outside the city… and for a brief moment we see the pastoral scene of Christmas: a child wrapped in swaddling clothes resting in the care of Mother Mary fair and pure, while rugged Joseph looks over her shoulder, protectively readying them for the days ahead. 

We behold the scene with our eyes, noting the straw of the manger, the rugged rocks of the cave, and lamb that sleeps not far from the newborn.  We look at these things and hear the lowing of the cattle, the bleats of sheep, and the coo-cooing of mother hushing her son.

In the darkness, the Lord rises… Looking to Bethlehem, the cloudy darkness seems to be held at bay, as the radiance of Christmas morning reveals God born into this world.  From the shadowy darkness emerge the Wisemen, laying gold, frankincense, and Myrrh, proclaiming the praise of the Lord.  They have seen his star rising in the night and have followed its light.

But the Lord rises beyond the scenes of Bethlehem.  We see him lifted up… Beyond the walls of safety, in the dumping grounds of the city… Suffering, he is lifted up, so that all eyes might be drawn to him… It’s such a gruesome sight that we’d rather not look. It reminds us of all the darkness that threatens us… awful words spoken in anger, unfair accusations made, painful actions that pierce our hearts…

Jesus is pulled into the darkness by a perversion of justice.  He is crucified by angry hatred. He is put to death after suffering some of what we experience and all that we fear. He is lifted up in the darkest place.

And in the darkness he gives all that he is and all that he has. He pours himself out fully… Look at him in your darkness and see the anguish he shares with you. He knows what you go through. He knows what it means to endure pain. He knows the sorrow of a broken heart. He knows the lashes of an abuser. He chooses to go there for you. He enters the darkness for you. He is lifted up for you…

And in this he is revealed.  In this, his passionate embrace of the darkness gives witness to God’s deepest desire: that darkness would give way to light… that 7:29 a.m. might come for all who suffer beyond 4:37, that the riches of God might come to all who suffer and struggle.  In the darkness, Jesus is revealed as God suffering with us, suffering for us.

In the darkness of Good Friday they bury Jesus.  They place him in the depths of the earth, plant his lifeless body in the place of eternal rest, believing him dead, knowing him to have been killed by all that is wrong in this world…

But in the darkness, God does God’s best work. In the darkness, God raises Jesus three days after his death. God brings God’s Divine Will to life. God’s love cannot be smothered by hatred, buried by abuse, or killed by any other means.  Nothing can separate you from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Nothing.

Darkness still covers the earth, but God is at work.  We look to the cross of Jesus and see that God is found in the suffering of this world – found hidden in the tragedies, God is bringing new life. Yes, darkness may still be among us, but the light of Christ is breaking into the world.

God does not leave you alone as you wander the shadowy places.  God enters into the darkness and in Jesus is lifted up to be the one who brings new light and life to all who suffer. In the gloom, God is going to work for you.  He enters into dusky situations and walks with you, even as you go through the valleys of the shadow of death. There’s no place God won’t go.

Look to the cross of Jesus and live. In it you see that God is forgiving sin and so much. In the cross, Jesus is bringing an end to the powers of hatred and abuse, destroying the powers that work against God’s love and life.  And all of this God is doing for you.

So, arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples, but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.  (Isaiah 60:1-2)

This is the Word of the Lord!

The above photo, entitled “Morning Light,” is by Jim Denham. It is used by permssion, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

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