Third Sunday after the Epiphany (2023)
What Time is It in Your Soul?
BC — Before Christ in Only Darkness
AD — After Christ is Only Eternal Light
The season of Epiphany is the season of God revealing, demonstrating, showing, himself as the fulfiller of the promise to Adam and Eve that he would find a way back for mankind to once again reside in a perfect relationship with himself.
It is a statement again that “[God] wants all [people] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth [that is himself]” (1 Tim 2:4), that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law” (Gal 4:4–5). The Old Testament Reading for today is that kind of revelation in contrasts. The darkness of the world is overcome by the light of God. The people existing in the darkness have experienced light shining upon them, and they have not run away or hidden themselves as Adam and Eve once did when God came into his perfect garden looking for them.
Instead they have received joy and happiness, and they rejoiced in the victory that they have over any and all enemies, and they celebrate and revel in the spoils of the enemy defeated. “[God] gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:57).
B.C. — Before Christ is Only Darkness
B.C. — Before Christ is Only Darkness
The areas of Zebulun and Naphtali exist in the northwest corner of Israel, along the seacoast, and historically were the hedge between marauding armies and all of Israel. They were the first in trouble and the most prone to disaster and destruction. As these inhabitants were lifted out of jeopardy, placed in safety, and given victory, they rejoiced like at harvest time or victory in battle.
I remember, while growing up, visiting the home of my grandparents and spending time in Grandma and Grandpa’s apricot orchard in the eastern hills of San Jose, California. Unfortunately, due to expansion and growth of the community, their place and orchard do not exist today. At any rate, I recall helping my Grandpa cultivate the soil around the trees. As we jarred the soil ever so slightly we would see hundreds of creatures living in the darkness of the soil scurrying to get back to the darkness. They had been exposed and could not exist in the light. Like Adam and Eve, they ran for cover.
You and I have been exposed to the light—“The light has dawned” but sometimes we run for cover. When we take ourselves away from what God has said, we are in darkness. When we compare our lives against the 10-Commandments, are we in light or darkness?
— Do we fear, love, and trust God above all things as the First Commandment demands?
— Do we cling to the Sabbath Day and hold fast to the Word of the Lord by gladly hearing and learning it, as the Third Commandment demands?
— What about the Eighth Commandment? Do we tell lies about one another, slander or betray them, or do we speak well of them and always put the best construction of things?
Or, do we listen to other voices besides God’s Word? Society today is working very hard to get us to pay attention to what they are saying and to discount what God says. A Christian hockey player will not down the jersey of some gay pride event in the arena, so he opts to stay in the locker-room. The result? He is ridiculed and insulted because he stood his ground.
Another voice in society today is indoctrination of our children to embrace things like critical race theory and the use of silly pronouns. Parents who speak out against this stuff have been removed from school board chambers by the Police.
What does God’s Word say about such things? He created them male and female, and for male and female to be married BEFORE any sexual encounter. Simple. But those who walk and live in darkness want what they cannot have. Those who do not have Christ are constantly listening to other voices instead of God’s Word.
In our OT reading, the darkness associated with God’s judgment came because the people rejected God’s Word. And in their case the Assyrians — acting as God’s agent of judgment — carried them off into slavery.
But in the midst of God’s judgment exist the promise and certainty of deliverance provided by the Lord God himself. The parts that have suffered most will seem to rejoice most in this deliverance.
A.D. — After Christ is Only Eternal Light
A.D. — After Christ is Only Eternal Light
The dawn of light has happened. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). The contrast of darkness to light is obvious and exciting when identified as part of God’s plan and promise of reconciliation. Outside of God’s activity the light is low and does only what the law does best—exposes and points out sins and shortcomings. Apart from God’s intervention, the light accuses, and we recognize our inability—we, like Adam and Eve, want to hide from the light.
All of the readings for this Third Sunday of Epiphany remind us that the light’s dawning is purposeful. God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). He has fulfilled his promise to Adam, to Eve, and to each one of us. He has called us to live in the marvelous light of his Son. He calls upon us and empowers us to live in relationship with himself and to “let [our] light shine before [others] that they may see [our] good works and praise [our] Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
The composer, Handel, identified this Isaiah passage as one of the most moving, dramatic, and therefore significant passages of the Old Testament, and uses it as a centerpiece in his “Messiah”. It begins with a call to rejoice because a new day is dawning for all those oppressed. The dawn of light is at hand.
Hear some other words from Isaiah:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (Is 60:1),
or from St. Peter, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Pet 2:10);
“[God has] called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9).
In Isaiah 9:4 we hear this wonderful news: “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.”
This verse reminds us that the credit for our redemption goes to God. The instruments that symbolize the burden and oppression of slavery—the yoke, the bar across their shoulders, the oppressor’s rod—have all been broken. Therein is the cause for rejoicing, for God has brought about this deliverance.
So great is this victory that it can be compared with the victory over Israel’s enemy Midian (Jdg 7:15–22). This victory in Israel’s history recalls the one who gave the victory. The Lord sent thousands home before the battle. Only three hundred faced the enemy so that there would be no mistake about the source of the victory.
Just as the almighty God delivered his people from the Midianites in the time of Gideon, so he will bring about a rescue from eternal spiritual slavery. The battle is still the Lord’s! For Gideon, Midian was the enemy. In Isaiah’s day the main threat was Assyria and then later Babylon. For you and me, it is our sinful flesh that wants what it wants, death, and the devil. Anything that opposes the kingdom of God has been, and will be, defeated.
This deliverance and victory, which Isaiah so eloquently describes, looks beyond earthly blessings for a nation to blessings of spiritual and eternal victory. As Paul said, we “used to be slaves to sin” (Ro 6:17) and “the wages of sin is death” (v. 23). We are by nature children of the devil. But now we have been freed from the curse of sin. “The gift of God is eternal life” (v. 23), and John reminds us that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn 3:8).
All our spiritual enemies have been defeated, and all believers enjoy the spoils of victory. The victory of Gideon and Israel against the Midianites symbolizes the great victory won for us by the promised Christ Child, who has come and who now is revealed as the long-awaited Messiah and the very Light of the world.
The text for this Sunday of Epiphany ends at verse 4, but the doxology continues through verse 7. One cannot ignore the familiar and powerful messianic revelation that follows. The glorious light of the Gentiles will be revealed in Galilee, and he shall be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (v. 6). The victory is won, our joy complete, and our eternal future secured. “The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (v. 7).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.