Epiphany Sermon: Isaiah 60: The Re-Gathering of God’s People

People of God, another one of the traditional seasons of the year “that amplifies our awareness of the person of Jesus is the…celebration of the ancient feast of the Epiphany. We remember these foreign kings, themselves alerted by strange manifestations in the heavens, like the shepherds, find their way to the Child, and as Scriptures say, “to pay him homage.” (Mat 2:2).[1] On the sixth of January, the Church celebrated the Epiphany of our Lord. The Word Epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation.” Advent celebrates the coming of the Lord, while Epiphany celebrates his revelation to the world.[2] “We need both. If God comes to us, but remains veiled and incognito, we will never know Him. If we are to be saved, He must show Himself. Graciously, He does show Himself, in all His multifaceted glory. Throughout His earthly life, Jesus manifests His character at various times and in various ways. Jesus manifests Himself as the light of Gentiles to the magi. He shows Himself as the Bridegroom at the wedding in Cana. He reveals His glory as the Son of Man coming in His kingdom at His transfiguration.”[3] It is this manifestation that we will consider from various angles and perspectives in these next six weeks of the Epiphany Season.

The pastors are wearing green in this season.[4] Green represents the new life that Christ gives us…it represents also the renewal we have in our baptisms, as well as the spiritual growth we experience during the season as we study the Lord’s ministry of teaching, healing, and miracles.[5]

In particular, we are going to take a look at a great prophecy found in Isaiah 60.

In this prophecy, Yahweh is addressing Zion. Zion is personified as a widow and[6] as “who is either sitting in dust and ashes or prostrate because of her sins.”[7] He says: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”[8] These are creative words. Who has the power to declare something to be? Only God himself. The One who spoke the world into existence is the one who speaks light into a dark world. Zion is desolate because of her sins, but God who commands to arise, also provides the strength to fulfill the order: “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of Yahweh has risen upon you.”

The picture here is one of restoration. Zion, who has lost her children, and husband, and family to captivity, now sees all of this being restored. They are all coming back home. As Isaiah says in verse 4: “Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.” There is a radical undoing of the darkness of captivity. Babel is being undone. Why? because we see here the Epiphany promise of the re-gathering. We know what happened in Genesis 11. The descendants of Noah found a plain in the land of Shinar and decided to build a structure that would reach the heavens. Many suggest that the reason they wanted to build a tower that reached the heavens was so that they would not be destroyed should God flood the earth again.[9] They are in high rebellion. God comes down and says: “No, this is not going to happen.” And he confuses their language like a child “babbling.” That’s where the word “babbling” comes from; from God confusing these babelites. They were not able to communicate with one another, and so God scatters them. Seventy nations are sent out. It is a new kind of death. This babel disaster brings darkness. The lights go out. Our ancestors wondered about in pitch darkness. Isaiah says that that darkness will be scattered.[10] But Isaiah promises a new beginning. This prophecy is beginning to be fulfilled with the arrival of the wise men in Matthew 2. These men have carefully studied the prophecies. They are fulfilling text after text, including all those passages about the Gentiles coming to worship Yahweh. Matthew says: “The star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” What kind of star was this? This is not some astrological event. Matthew points to a different explanation. This is the presence of God himself in the world. Isaiah says that the Glory of the Lord shall rise and His glory will be seen upon you. When God is seen visiting his people in the Old Covenant we see this language used. The glory of the Lord has appeared to Israel before in the wilderness in the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day.[11] In Numbers, we hear that the Lord stands over them. The star is seen going before the wise men. It stopped and stood over the child. The star is the shekinah-glory of God resting on the king of the earth. The glory of the Lord rests on the light of man. “This light becomes a beacon that draws all the nations of the earth to Christ. They are following light and when they come they see the one who is the light. He is the bread come down from heaven and placed on a food trough. He is the Lamb of God. The coming of Jesus is the birth of light. God is light and there is no darkness in him.”[12] Isaiah says in verse two that “darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” Darkness came upon the world in Adam’s fall. This darkness is the chaos and the moral wickedness of the nations of the earth; even, God’s people, Israel. They are stumbling about; the blind following the blind. They are hopeless. They need understanding; a vision, without which they will perish. They need the light to restore them. This state of darkness had reigned all the way up to the arrival of the Lord. Now at the arrival of Jesus, they will once again see the light; they will be re-created and re-gathered. But it is not just Israel that will see the light. Isaiah says that “nations shall come to your light.” The Apostle Paul speaks of the great mystery, which will be revealed in the New Covenant. The new mystery in the New Covenant is that God has brought you in. The mystery revealed is that God has re-gathered; united all His people—Jew and Gentile. God has destroyed the walls of partition; the walls that divided the nations.

As the great German song writer, Martin Opitz writes:

“The world’s remotest races, upon whose weary faces the sun looks from the sky, shall run with zeal untiring, with joy thy light desiring that breaks upon them from the sky.”[13]

God tells her (widow): “Stand up! Arise and shine! God gives a command in verse 1: Arise and shine because your light has come. The darkness is retreating. Israel has been a woman who is bereaved. She has lost the ones she loved and then she is weeping for them. Isaiah says: “Wipe your eyes and look what is coming.” Yahweh has dawned upon you.[14] So, she lifts her eyes and sees this restoration taking place. God is flooding the earth, not with destruction, but with his glory.

The nations are coming to Zion. They are coming to embrace the light. They are being surprised by joy. C.S. Lewis once described his conversion “as adjusting to wakefulness, a heightened consciousness that does not happen all at once but gradually.”[15] As you consider Isaiah’s description the Gentiles needed to be awakened. God had to intervene in history and bring this light into the world. The prophets waited, Zechariah waited, but we now see the dazzling glory of the Lord. The Gentiles, who long ago, were blinded in the deep religious blindness of their idolatry, have now after many years been called to the light. But not only the Gentile people, but also the Gentile kings shall come. The leaders and kings, “those of high rank will come to the saving knowledge of truth.”[16] Calvin writes that “there is no corner of the earth which the Lord has not enlightened by his light.” And what is Isaiah predicting? He is prophesying of King Jesus who will dazzle the wise men and kings with his appearing. That day has already dawned. They see the face of this little infant and acknowledge that all the hopes are in this little body. The king of kings – the one who rules in heaven and earth is shining in the face of this little child.[17] Are we still dazzled by the light of Christ? Are we emboldened to bring light as we consider the Lord of light? Epiphany is the glory of Christ going to all the world. Epiphany is the mission of the church: to reveal this glory to the nations.

What is the result of this influx? A wondrous and fearful rejoicing on Zion’s part, as we read in verse 5:

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

Your heart will literally grow broad.[18] Isaiah says that the abundance of the sea will be turned to you; that is, the sea stands for the nations.[19] “All that at one time belonged to the heathen nations will now be turned over to Zion, for the people and all that they have will be dedicated to Jerusalem.[20] This is a wholistic picture. God is concerned about our joy. The joy of salvation and the joy of life are all included in this sweeping statement by the prophet. You will be thrilled at the coming of Jesus. C.S. Lewis once spoke about being stabbed by joy. I wonder if at times we simply resort to self-pity and somberness, because we have lost the dazzling splendor of the gospel. I love the way John Piper described G.K. Chesterton. Piper said that Chesterton sees more wonder in an ordinary day than most of us see in a hundred miracles.[21] Do we see the world as wonder? Is it possible that Christians live in this world as if the incarnation never happened? There is a mental affirmation of the incarnation, but we wonder around assuming there is no wonder. But the opposite is how we are called to live.

Isaiah’s passage is so powerful because it calls us to be true to the light given to us. The light that came into the world shed light on our darkness, and we in turn are to push back the darkness around us. Where Christ is, and where his people are there is light. When we are faithful the light is strong and those around us see Jesus with greater clarity; when we are morbidly existing as Christians our light is dim and the world is confused by what message we have. So, in what way is our light shining? In what way are our actions telling the Epiphany story? To use the language of Isaiah, “in what way is our wealth revealing the Lord of glory?” How is the wealth given to us being used? Is the fruit of our labor being used as a way to show the world our remarkable hospitality, or is it showing the world our remarkable selfishness? Isaiah says that when the Gentile rulers and kings were changed by the light, they set their captives free and brought great gifts to Zion. Zion is a picture both of the Church and the kingdom. What gifts are we bringing to this congregation; to the kingdom of God? Do not allow the light of the gospel to simply heal your blindness, but let it affect all of your life.

The glory-cloud was the presence of God guiding men to see the presence of God in human flesh. These gifts brought to our Lord are reflections of the gift Jesus has become to the world. The wonder who has come now brings wonders to Jews and Gentiles. Let earth receive her King!

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year, 93

[2] Based on some of Peter Leithart’s observations on Epiphany.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Some churches, though few, wear white, and reserve green only for the Pentecost Season.

[6] Some observations from Rev. Jeff Harlow.

[7] The Book of Isaiah, A Commentary by Edward Young, Volume III, pg. 443.

[8] All quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[9] Inspired by some of the notes from Jeff Harlow.

[10] Ibid.

[11] See Exodus. Also helpful Epiphany sermon by Pastor Stout in January of 2010 at Providence Church. See wordmp3.com

[12] Jeff Harlow’s description.

[13] Cantus Christi, pg. 252-253

[14] Harlow notes.

[16] The Book of Isaiah, Volume III by Edward Young, 444.

[17] Jeff Harlow.

[18] See Young.

[19] See Daniel 7:1

[20] Young.


About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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1 Response to Epiphany Sermon: Isaiah 60: The Re-Gathering of God’s People

  1. Pingback: Epiphany « Wings of Fire

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