Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Come to the Light”
Rev. Art Ritter
January 5, 2020
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. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought 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 proclaim the praise of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house. Who are these that fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows?
For the coastlands shall wait for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from far away, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the Lord your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has glorified you.
I would like to begin my sermon this morning by taking a poll of the congregation. How many of you consider yourselves to be “morning people?” By that I mean people who are up at the break of dawn or before dawn, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, full of energy and ready to face the day. I am not a morning person. I am better at getting up early than I used to be but it still kind of bothers me when energetic morning people talk about all that can be experienced and accomplished before 8 a.m. I sometimes think that morning people have an almost evangelical feel about the dawn. They possess the truth about the value of the dawn and they want to convince everyone else about it.
I have a colleague who often posts on Facebook about how guilty he feels when he sleeps in past 6 o’clock in the morning. When I read these kind of statements I just shake my head. I feel badly for my colleague and for other morning people who go to bed early so they can get up early and consequently miss all of the blessings of the late hours of the night.
If you are a morning person, you are at an advantage in the world. I read an article this week that said that our society caters to morning people. School and work typically starts very early in the day so it is an advantage for those whose body clocks are set to start a bit earlier in the morning. A lot of this isn’t based on the productivity of the morning hours but on the old agricultural society when farmers had to get up early so everything in society adjusted to them. After reading that, I guess I’ve done pretty well getting this far in life being doubly cursed: a night owl and left-handed!
One of the things that I hoped to accomplish during the holidays was to sleep in a couple mornings. It didn’t happen. I certainly didn’t get up real early but I was unable to make it past 8 o’clock. If that is sleeping in for you than I don’t want to hear about it because then you are one of those “morning people.” Laura says that I can’t sleep in any more. I start thinking about all of the things that I have to do and it forces me to get up, get dressed, and get busy.
I remember my years at the church sponsored camp in Utah. I usually stayed up late, making the rounds around the cabins to be certain everyone was asleep and where they were supposed to be. I didn’t mind those quiet later night hours. It was getting up early that exhausted me. The campers would begin each morning by singing that song about Noah and his “Arky, Arky.” The chorus went like this, “So rise and shine, and give God your glory, glory.” While I was always grumpy at the beginning of the song, after all it was before 8 o’clock in the morning – there was something about watching the kids singing it that gave me a smile and got me up and moving. Rise and shine and give God your glory.
The words of the prophet Isaiah speak a similar message. “Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Isaiah is probably speaking to a woman representing Jerusalem, reminding her to lift herself up from her place of darkness because her deliverance has come. God was about to do something important, perhaps even earth shattering. God was preparing a way for God’s people to return home from exile. This passage was one of the promise of homecoming and restoration. Isaiah called the people of God to wake up and shine forth their testimony of the greatness and goodness of God. These are the words of the prophet that we need to hear on Epiphany Sunday.
The season of Epiphany is one in which we recognize the value of light, awareness, and revelation. We celebrate the story of the revelation of God in Jesus’ birth and we seek such revelation in our hearts and in our community of faith. An epiphany itself is an awakening, a bringing to light, a recognition of something once hidden that changes our sense of awareness. The symbol of Epiphany is a star, a light which the wise men followed. It brought them to the light of the world in Jesus and that revelation changed them. They went home by a different way. An epiphany is the spirit of rise and shine that speaks to a world, telling us to come to the light so that we can be changed. Epiphany speaks to a world that perhaps would rather just hibernate.
But it is more than simply waking up. Isaiah’s words point to God’s light in Jesus but also to our responsibility to be the way in which that light shines into the rest of the world. We not only have to wake up. We have to come to the light. We have to recognize the light. And we have to shine. We have to receive the good news. We have to share it with others.
Dr. Jim Standiford tells of a friend in New York City who lives in a ground floor apartment that faces north. The window in the low ceiling living room catches only a few feeble morning rays of light. For eight years the man had tried to grow a plant in that window to brighten up the apartment. But each effort ended in failure. A plant would struggle for a while and then give up due to the absence of sunlight. Then, about two years ago, the man bought a small ivy plant. It too struggled for life until recently when for no apparent reason it has begun to sprout new leaves and shoots. One day when the man was home early from work, about 3:30 p.m., he discovered light streaming through his window. It turns out that a new high-rise tower was built a block to the north of the apartment building. The windows of that tower reflected the sun’s afternoon rays into the man’s apartment perfectly. Because of that reflection of light, the plant was experiencing new life.
In my research this week I found an article written by a sleep doctor at Duke University. He had some advice for those of us who like to stay up late but have trouble waking up early. The advice was all about light. He recommended that we turn off all lights, including computers and phones and clocks before we go to bed, to assist us in sleeping well. And then in the morning when we rise, we come to the light by turning on as many bright lights as we can. Light is the way to be active and alive.
That is Epiphany. It is life rising and light shining with the warmth and possibility of God. It is the understanding that Jesus as God among us is present in our world here and now. What is it that gets us up in morning? Is it an alarm clock or obligation or guilt? Or is it a desire to get a jump on the day, to catch the sunrise, and to find something worth getting up for? As much as I am not a morning person, I think that Epiphany is a morning season. Isaiah calls us to a new direction, to come to the light, to be eager to see what God is doing, or what God might be doing in each new day. As followers of Christ, we have seen and experienced something in our celebration of Christmas. A light shines into the darkness. The light is the light of the world. Having seen that light, having experienced it in our hearts, we are commanded to share of it and to shine into the whole world. How might our days be different if we adopted the presence of morning- of looking for God’s possibilities and God’s glory in our world.