Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face. So dark that you can’t see where you’re going; for all that it matters, your eyes might as well be closed. So dark that you could be anywhere, or nowhere. So dark that all you can do is sit down and wait for morning. So dark that it feels like death. Some people think that the darkness is light. They start walking, slowly at first, arms stretched out in front of them. Then, not encountering any immediate obstacles, they jog, and then they run, faster and faster. Sooner or later, however, they find themselves face down, bloodied and bruised. Or they may discover the earth pulled out from under them, falling into the darkness, unable to see the bottom. “If anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (John 11:10, ESV).
A people sitting in darkness, sitting in a land shrouded in the shadow of death. Death looms large here. It casts its pall over the whole creation, and people move around in the darkness, pretending that death does not exist or that it’s just a “part of life.” Pretending that the darkness is light. Celebrating death, enshrining it in law, holding sacred the right of mothers to take the lives of their own children. But once the light of the sun breaks through and forces your eyes to adjust, you see the darkness for just how dark it is. We, who walk in the light, might expect that those who encounter the light would be glad to come out of the shadowy darkness and into the light. But, more likely, they will crawl back into their darkness and take shelter from the light that exposes everything. The light exposes everything. The darkness hides and conceals. If someone wants to commit a crime, more often than not they do it in the middle of the night. In fact, when there is a shooting or carjacking during the day, we say, “I can’t believe they did that in broad daylight!” Thus says the Lord, “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20, ESV). If you stand in the light of God, what you do and who you are will be exposed, and that is never comfortable. But even the darkness is light to God (Psalm 139:11-12), so there is nowhere to hide. Your secret sins, your hidden hatreds, all those thick and thorny thoughts you conceal-the Lord God knows them all.
But on the people sitting in darkness, a light has dawned. The Epiphany of our Lord is light in the darkness. It is a changed mind prepared for the quickly coming Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 4:17). It is the difference between men who are fishers and fishers of men (4:19). It means leaving jobs and fathers and following Jesus (4:22). It means that the end is near for the various diseases, constant pain, and everything that wages war against minds and bodies and souls (4:24). And it means that the darkness is passing away, because the true light is already shining (1 John 2:8). It is true: for those who cling to the darkness the light is dangerous. You cannot hang on to your little piece of darkness and expect to remain in the light. It will, without fail, pull you back in again. Each one of us is subject to a pet sin that we sometimes feed in the darkness when no one is watching. You know the one: you excuse it by saying that it’s not that bad; or, at least it’s not as bad as that person’s.
And you can find pet sins for sale on every corner. Maybe it’s number two: taking the Name of God for granted by refusing to pray, because you think you can handle your problems. Or number three: violating the Lord’s Day by neglecting His sacred word and refusing to gladly hear and learn it. Or four: despising the governing authorities—of whatever party—or ignoring your parents, though they are God’s representatives to you. Five: Knowing that someone needs your help but leaving it for someone else to do. Six: pretending that the marriage bed is yours to do with as you wish; seven: getting what you want by dishonesty or outright theft; eight: conveniently forgetting to put the best construction on the actions of someone else as you whisper behind his or her back; or nine and ten: wishing that God had given you what He has given your neighbor. And all because we do not fear and love God as we should. We love the darkness so much that we cover our eyes when the light begins to shine on the works of our darkness. Like little children, we think that if we can’t see God, He can’t see us. And death’s shadow grows larger and darker.
But, children of God, the darkness is passing away! The true light is already shining! The people sitting in darkness have seen a great light, and on the ones sitting in the land and shadow of death, the light has dawned. Will you, having seen the light of the Son, retreat into the darkness where you can go on sinning? Out of sight, out of mind? Do you think you can keep your darkness from the conquering light? No, there is no corner into which the light will not go. The light of the world willingly covered Himself in flesh so that He could flush the darkness out of every nook and cranny, even the darkness you have pushed down so deep that you can almost pretend it never happened. But your Lord will not be content until you are full of light and the darkness has passed completely away. He has made you a child of the light, and He means to finish what He started. Christians know that they are light in the Lord; but they also know that the shadow of sin remains until this body is dead and buried, and a renewed, resurrected body is raised from the darkness of death.
Whatever it is, whatever you have done, whoever you were, He already knows it. He knows you. He created you. Why do you hide from your Creator in shame while He searches the darkening garden for you? I know the darkness can be painful. Maybe you think no one will understand. Maybe you think that the wounds, if opened again, might never stop bleeding. And if we had a God who sat up in some heaven and left us to wonder whether He was for or against us, you would be justified in thinking those thoughts. But we do not have a God like that. We have a God who is Love. He does not just love you; He is Love for you. Do not confuse our pale, human attempts at love, do not confuse some person’s failures at loving you, for the Love of God, which we see and know in the Son, Jesus. Our God is a God in flesh, our flesh—even the flesh of a tiny zygote, and embryo, and fetus in the womb of Mary—and He does know you, better than you know yourself. His wounds bled to cover your wounds.
So repent that you have tried to cover the light with your darkness. Repent where you have been in league with death; where you have tried to hold onto your scraps of demonic darkness, even while Jesus is trying to drive them out of you. Repent and be forgiven. Eat the light of the world become flesh, as He gives Himself in the bread. Drink His blood of the New Testament that He gives you in the wine. Here is light that makes all other light dark in comparison. Here is light that is living and active, that courses through the dried up veins of your body and enlightens the brooding darkness of your spirit. Here, dear children, is the light of the world as He gives Himself for the life of the world. “…the Light of Light, descending/From the realms of endless day,/Comes the pow’rs of hell to vanquish/As the darkness clears away” (LSB 621, st. 3). Whoever follows him will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12). And since the light, Jesus Christ, has put Himself in the midst of you and within you, darkness must flee away. Since Jesus is in you, you are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14), no matter how many march in the crowds of darkness. If your eye, enlightened by the true light, is healthy, then your whole body will be full of light (Matthew 6:22). Christ is the light! The darkness is passing away. “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who led your people by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Enlighten our darkness by the light of Your Christ; may His Word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path; for you are merciful, and You love Your whole creation and we, Your creatures, glorify You” (“Thanksgiving for Light,” LSB 245).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/21/17