“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. 5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. 6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:1-6)
It’s no fun to be on the outside. I’m not talking about being outside in the cold, although that’s not very fun either. It’s no fun to be on the outside. You’re at a Christmas party. Everybody seems to be having a great time. But it’s like you don’t exist. It wouldn’t matter if you weren’t there. You know what I mean? You saw your family for Christmas, but not a single person actually asked how you’re doing. People all around, but you’re still on the outside. You scroll through your Facebook feed, and everyone seems to be doing so many fun things. But nobody invites you. It’s no fun to be on the outside. Instead, there’s a lot of pain and frustration and hurt.
If you’ve been there, then you know what happens next. When you feel like you’re stuck on the outside with the people around you, pretty soon you feel like you’re stuck on the outside with God too. When no one else seems to care, it seems pretty clear that God doesn’t care either, right? When no one else lets you into their circle, it seems impossible that God would let you into his circle. When no one else is willing to forgive, it seems pretty unlikely that God would ever forgive either. Isn’t that the worst kind of “outside”? It’s no fun being on the outside.
It sure seemed like that’s where God’s people were in Isaiah’s day—on the outside of everything. Israel was this neglected little country. It’s like the size of New Jersey. Who cares about New Jersey? When other nations came to Israel, they only came to take. They took gold and treasures. They took people as captives and slaves. And God just let it happen, because Israel absolutely deserved it for their sins. They were on the outside looking in, for every possible reason. Forgotten. Punished. Beaten down. Everybody taking. Nobody giving. Nobody caring. As Isaiah writes his book, it’s like he sees Israel cast off in a heap on the ground, forgotten.
So to that sad heap on the ground, God had Isaiah write this: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” Did you know that the phrase “rise and shine” actually comes from the Bible? Here it is! Rise and shine! Like an alarm clock—a good alarm clock—for God’s people who were weighed down by trouble and sorrow. The time to lie on the ground is over. The time to feel sorry for yourself is over. The time to feel like you’re an outsider is over. “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” Like waking up to the light of a new day.
Who do you think that “light” is? It’s Jesus! The “light” Isaiah saw was Jesus! Earlier he wrote: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). This is a perfect lesson for after Christmas: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” Jesus has come. Not to take, but to give. He was born for us and lived for us and died for us and rose for us. There is light in your life. If you get nothing else out of this sermon, remember this: You’re in. No matter how you feel, you’re not an outsider. You are “in” with God through Jesus.
So rise and shine. Jesus our Light has come! But that’s just the first verse. Look at the next word: “See…” The moment you’re “in,” God wants you to start looking around. “See, darkness covers the earth and think 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.” The moment you know Jesus’ salvation, God wants you to see all the people still dying in darkness. There are so many people who don’t know Jesus. Who are still scared of death. Who don’t know their sins are forgiven. “See, darkness covers the earth.” Jesus came for them too!
During Advent, we sang one song over and over at the start of our services. Remember the song? “Savior of the Nations Come.” Notice that the title isn’t “Savior of Me Come.” No, it’s “Savior of the Nations Come.” God from way back has wanted his people to know that God’s grace in Jesus isn’t just for them. Who’s it for? The nations. You and I are proof. In Isaiah’s day, no one even knew North America existed. Yet, by God’s grace, the Word has reached to us. Here we are worshiping Jesus and bringing gifts to Jesus. The Savior of the Nations has come! What grace for us! We who were on the outside have been brought into the family of God.
It’s just that once you get on the inside, an interesting thing happens. When you’re on the outside of something, you want it to be easy to get in. But once you’re on the inside, suddenly you want to protect what you have. You want it to be for you. Have you seen this in your life? When you’re not a member of an organization—like the YMCA or the zoo—you hope there will be lots of free days for everyone to get in. But when you buy a membership, suddenly your attitude changes. Now you don’t like free days. They are too crowded. It doesn’t seem fair. You paid. Everyone else should have to pay too! Once you are on the inside, your attitude changes.
Over the past few years, a movement has been sweeping the world. In country after country, voices are calling out: “We need to put ourselves first. We need to close ourselves off from others. We need to do what’s good for us. Us. Us. Us!” Hear that? It’s up for debate whether that’s healthy for a country. What’s sad is how easily that attitudes seeps into Christian churches: “We need to put ourselves first. We need to close ourselves off from others. We need to do what’s good for us. Us. Us. Us!” Can you see the temptation? Many Jews became convinced that God was just for them. That they were better than everyone else because they were in the club.
Here’s the irony: Remember where we started? Being on the outside. What’s the only reason the Jews were God’s people? By God’s grace! God chose them. God saved them. God forgave them. All by his grace. The Israelites were the last people on earth who should have been proud. Who should have been focused on themselves. It had been all God’s grace all the time! Are you and I any different? God chose you. God rescued you. God saved you. God forgave you. It’s all God. It’s all grace. Aren’t we the last people in the world who should be proud or self-centered?
But we are. Would you agree? We too often focus our lives and our church on us. What we like. What we want. Everybody out there? Rise and shine God’s light to others? Not on our radar. At a pastors conference this fall, a Seminary professors put it like this: “We are so turned in to ourselves. We’re blind to everybody else.” Is he right? That really hit home for me. My eyes are so turned in to myself that I refuse to see or care about the nations of people who live in darkness without God’s light. Somehow “Savior of the Nations Come” became “Savior of Us Come.”
Know why it’s so important to know that Jesus came to save the nations? That’s how I know that Jesus came to save me. If Jesus came just for the Jews—not me! If Jesus came just for those who deserve it—not me! But if he came as the Savior of the Nations? That includes me! “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”
Christianity is truly world-wide in a way that no other religion in the world is. Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism are confined to certain places and cultures. Where is Christianity? Everywhere. Not everyone. But everywhere! From the Amazon to Iraq, Christianity isn’t defined by culture or language or race. We better not set up those boundaries! Jesus is the Savior of the Nations! Do you know how many languages the Bible has been translated into? 698 languages. Do you know how many languages the Quran of Islam has been translated into? 47 languages. “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” It’s true!
God is bringing people from all over the world to his church. Just last year, a group of over 100,000 Christians in Vietnam reached out to our Wisconsin Synod and asked us to train all their pastors in the Bible. Wow! “Lift up your eyes and look around you.” In refugee camps in Africa, people don’t have homes or jobs or a future on earth, but they have Bible studies and worship services with WELS materials right in their camps. “Lift up your eyes and look around you.” In Latin America, over 1,000,000 people follow our WELS Facebook page, and groups are forming churches in their own houses to gather around God’s Word. People all over are coming to Jesus!
“Arise, shine, for your light has come.” You know whom else God is talking to? Us! Shine Jesus’ light. That’s why we’re on earth! You shine like the moon—not with your own light. With Jesus’ light. I heard some cool math lately. Let’s say that on January 1st, one Christian shared Jesus with two other people. Then the next day, those 3 people shared the gospel with just two people each. Then the next day, those nine people shared the gospel with two people each… If that continued every day, telling just two people each, do you know how long it would be before all 8 billion people hear the Gospel? Just 21 days. January 21st. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to let us shine!
“Nations will come to your light.” Is that really going to happen? It sounds unlikely, does it? Except with our God. One day, out of the blue, some kings in strange robes knocked on the door of a humble little house in Bethlehem. When a surprised young lady answered the door, they asked if they could come in. She must have been scared, but they didn’t come to take. They came to give. The wise men bowed before a little toddler, “bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” The Bible says something different than what we hear in this country. Who you are isn’t a result of citizenship or race or achievement. Being “in” has nothing to do with your heritage or job or skill. It’s all by God’s grace. Who’s God’s grace for? All nations.
Doesn’t that sound good? The greatest joy in life is seeing people come to faith and salvation in Jesus. “Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy…” Like how your heart throbs and swells on Christmas Eve when you sing Silent Night in a packed, candlelit church. That’s the joy of heaven. Here is how the Bible describes it: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10). Because of Jesus, you’re “in”! The Savior of the Nations has come. So let’s rise and shine!