The first six days….

On the first day of Christmas, I fasted from the Internet. It was a premeditated and deliberate fast. We had church in the morning and family the rest of the day. We exchanged presents, ate together, visited, played a game or two, and enjoyed each other’s company. There was a time when I was one of six people sitting in the living room, the only one of the six not looking at a handheld device, but even that was okay.

On the second day of Christmas I caught up. Nothing had happened on email or Facebook or WordPress that needed my immediate attention, so that was fine.

On the third day of Christmas I traveled to a relative’s house. Every year between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day the extended family tries to gather, and this year was no exception. In fact, a certain group of seven close relatives was together in the same place for the first time in more than five years, jobs and school and other commitments keeping one or another away from the family gathering each of the last several years. Again, we exchanged gifts, ate together, played a game or two, and enjoyed each other’s company. This is the closest I have ever come to a Christmas celebration involving “kids from one to ninety-two”: my father is ninety (ninety-one in a little more than a week), and my niece’s son is two.

Other years when we have gathered for a family Christmas, I have taken advantage of access to an almost-abandoned desktop computer with Internet access, and I have kept up with email and with social media. This year I decided on a whim not to touch that computer. For three days and three nights I was off the Internet. I have some catching up to do, but I gather that nothing happened in the last three days that required my immediate attention. One of my favorite sports teams may have made a change while I wasn’t paying attention, or there might have been some news I missed—although I did have access to the daily newspaper. I didn’t even go online to play nonograms or sudoku; I did do one sudoku by pencil in Saturday’s newspaper.

A holiday fast from the Internet is surprisingly refreshing. I was not completely without electric stimulus: some of us watched football on TV, and if someone wanted to show me a clever meme or video, I obliged. But during those three days and three nights I was interacting with people only if they were in the same room as me, only if we could hear and see one another as we spoke.

Tomorrow I will again catch up. Meanwhile, the chance to catch up with family was a good way to enjoy the Christmas season. And six days of Christmas remain to be celebrated. J.

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Of writing many books there is no end

A merry Second Day of Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day, and Boxing Day to all!

This morning I updated my page “Books written by Salvageable” to add two books that came out late this year. The first is “Martin Luther’s Small Catechism with additional commentary,” which began as a series of posts on this blog in October 2017 and ran well into 2018, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The other is “Salvageable: A Collection of Short Stories,” which also includes material that has appeared on this blog, generally under the category of “First Friday Fiction.”

In the new year I hope to pick up two projects that I began this year and set aside for a time. One is “Revelation Unveiled,” a study (but not a commentary) on the last book of the Bible. This book will show an understanding of Revelation as a guide for Christians living in the present age, not a countdown of future events that are yet to be fulfilled. It will connect Revelation to the other sixty-five books of the Bible, using them to interpret Revelation rather than the other way around. It will also demonstrate how the Day of the Lord is approached seven times from different directions in the book of Revelation, with a rewind into present times the first six occurrences and a jump into the future new creation only after the seventh view of the Day of the Lord.

The second book I began and hope to complete is a study of how Christians worship. It will look at the traditional form of worship that has been used by Christians over the centuries, the Biblical roots of each part of that service, and some other Christian traditions associated with worship, including the Church calendar of seasons and holidays, architecture, church furniture, and clothing.

Next November I expect to publish the recently completed “Advent thoughts,” with a slight rearrangement to wind up with Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6, rather than having them appear around the middle of the season.

I have several other books written long before I began blogging, and I might select one of them to round out my pattern of four new books a year. But one other book I hope to outline and perhaps begin writing (especially if Revelation or Christian Worship get mired again) is tentatively titled “Embracing the Dark Side.” This book would reflect the mistake many Christians make, thinking that their lives in this sinful world must be marked always with joy and peace, that any episodes of anxiety and depression are sinful and are not part of the Christian life. In part, I plan to refer to Christian works from other times, such as The Dark Night of the Soul, to show that every day in the life of a Christian isn’t required to be sunlight and flowers, and that Christians often grow spiritually during the dark times of their walk more than during the joyful and happy times.

I hope and pray that everyone had a good First Day of Christmas and that all are now enjoying the following days of the Christmas season. J.

Advent thoughts: December 24

“Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (Malachi 3:1—read Malachi 3:1-6).

Malachi, like Haggai, reports that the Lord will visit his temple. This Jesus did—as an infant, and as a boy, and as a man. He came to rescue sinners. He came in grace to fix what sin and evil have broken. He came to fight, not against Romans and other foreign powers, not against all sinners, but against sin itself and against the consequences of sin.

Malachi compares the Lord in his coming as a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap. Both are very powerful cleansers. A refiner’s fire is hot enough to melt silver or gold and to burn away any impurities in the metals. A fuller’s soap is coarse enough to add body to fabric (making the fabric fuller, hence its name) and also to remove dirt from the fabric. Either of these products can cause injury and death if misused. Both of them, used properly, add value to the metal or the fabric to which they are applied.

So Jesus, in his coming, is dangerous to sinners, but he did not come at first to judge sinners. He came at first to rescue sinners. He came to melt our hearts, to burn away our impurities, and to recast us in his own image. He came to wash us so we can be clean and pure, useful for his purposes and acceptable for his kingdom.

On the Day of the Lord Jesus will have to judge and condemn those who rejected him. Some loved their sin more than their Savior and clung to their sin, refusing to be rescued. Others thought they needed no Savior: they clung to their good works and demanded that God give them what they deserve. In sorrow, Jesus must send both groups away. But those who have trusted his promises have already been washed clean and refined. Those who trust in him will live in his new creation, celebrating eternally the victory Jesus won.

On his birthday, Christians like to pull out the baby pictures of Jesus. We remember him wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger. We remember him visited by shepherds. Later he was visited by wise men bringing gifts. But that baby grew to be a man. As a man, he fought evil, and he won. He resisted the devil’s temptations. He refused to be dragged by the world into sin. He suffered the consequences of sin, and he paid in full for the world’s sins. He died, but he rose again victoriously to live and reign eternally. He is our God, our Savior, and our Redeemer. We belong to him today and forever. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 23

“Behold, your King is coming to you, righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9—read Zechariah 9:9-12).

When Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week, he was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. Of course, God did not create a checklist through Moses and the prophets and then begin figuring out how to accomplish all that he had said. God created time. God exists outside of time. God experiences all times at a glance. When Moses and the prophets spoke the Word of the Lord, their messages were already accomplished in the sight of God. The Holy Spirit reported the plan of salvation to Moses and the prophets as if it had already been accomplished in time. Therefore, they wrote in the past and present tenses about events that were still centuries in the future.

The donkey is a humble creature, a beast of burden. Having a king ride a donkey in a parade is equivalent to seeing an important leader today riding a bicycle in a parade. The humility of Jesus is reflected in his choice of a donkey, yet Jesus also exercised the royal privilege of riding an animal that had never been ridden before.

The prophet calls the King righteous. Jesus is perfectly righteous. He lived a pure and sinless life, never once breaking any of God’s commands. He loved his Father fully and trusted his Father completely. He loved the people around him and helped them in their needs. Jesus never used his power as the Son of God for his own benefit. In righteousness, he used his divine power to help others: to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to calm storms, to cast out demons, and even to raise the dead. We view perfect love as we read about all the miracles Jesus worked to help others, and as we realize that he refused to use any of that power to help himself.

Jesus also has salvation. He rescues people in trouble. His healings and other miracles were part of his rescue mission, but they only paved the way for his greatest act of service. Jesus could fix anything that goes wrong with the body: eyes, ears, legs, and even minds. But his goal was to strike at the root of the problem—to overcome evil at his source. Therefore, Jesus took on the guilt for the sins of the world and carried them to the cross. He paid in full the penalty for all the sins of history. In the process, he defeated sin and evil, and in the end, he defeated death itself.

The full results of that victory will be experienced when Jesus is seen on the Day of the Lord. All the dead will be raised on that Day, and all will stand before his throne of Judgment. Every eye will see him, and every ear will hear his voice. No one will be blind or deaf. On that Day, the King will welcome into his kingdom all those who trust his promises. Those who looked elsewhere for salvation will be left standing in the darkness, outside the celebration of his kingdom.
“Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” The price Jesus paid to redeem us is more than sufficient. We will not always be prisoners of sin and evil and death. Because of the price Jesus paid, we will celebrate his victory with him in his kingdom forever. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 22

“The latter glory of this house [the Temple] shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:9—read Haggai 2:1-9).

When they sacked Jerusalem, the Babylonian soldiers destroyed the glorious Temple that Solomon had built for the Lord. Seventy years later, the Persians sacked Babylon; the Persian emperor allowed the Jews to return and to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Some of the elderly Jews could remember Solomon’s Temple, and they wept, seeing the far more plain Temple that was being erected on the same spot.

God sent his prophet Haggai to comfort those who mourned over the simpler second Temple. Speaking for the Lord, Haggai promised that the glory of the second Temple would exceed the glory of Solomon’s Temple. God promised that he would be present in this new Temple. He said that he would bring the wealth of nations into the new Temple. He said that in that place, the new Temple, the Lord would give peace.

All these promises were fulfilled when Jesus came into the Temple. His first arrival was as a baby, forty days old, when Mary and Joseph went to the Temple to fulfill the ceremonies required by the old covenant for the birth of a first-born son. Simeon and Anna both recognized their Savior in that infant, and they spoke to others about the promises of God that were being fulfilled in their time.

When he was twelve, Jesus spent three days in the Temple, discussing Torah with the Bible experts and amazing them by his wisdom and understanding. During those three days Jesus was missing, lost to his family as far as they knew. This loss was a picture of the Passover when Jesus would be arrested, tortured, killed, and buried. Once again he was lost to his family and friends for three days, but on the third day he rose from the dead, and they found him alive, just as he had promised.

As an adult, Jesus taught in the Temple and debated his enemies. Once again, by his presence Jesus made the Temple holy. Its glory was greater than the glory of Solomon’s Temple, not because of silver and gold, but because the true Temple was making his presence known in this new Temple in Jerusalem.

Both Solomon’s Temple and the second Temple were pictures of Jesus. A god dwells in a temple and is accessible to his people in that temple. In the Person of Jesus God dwelt among his people, and Jesus still makes his Father accessible to those who come to the Father through Jesus. The Church is the body of Jesus and is therefore also his Temple. In the Church the nations have entered the Temple, bringing their silver and their gold, making a far more glorious Temple than Solomon’s one building in Jerusalem.

The nations of the world still suffer strife and violence and war. The nations gathered in the Temple—the Church, the body of Christ—have received peace. The Prince of Peace bestows his blessings to all who come to him in faith. Peace on earth is promised by angels. Through Christ we receive the peace that surpasses all human understanding. Thanks be to God! J.

The limitations of science

I am a fan of science. I was a boy at the time of the Apollo missions to the moon, and I watched full coverage of them on television. Over the years, my parents bought me a telescope, a microscope, a chemistry set, and a 100-project electrical kit. I got As in science all through school. I still keep up with the latest discoveries, from the exploration of Mars to the particles detected from split atoms.

Science provides many benefits. Science gives us longer and more productive lives, thanks to expanding knowledge about nutrition, sleep, exercise, medicine, therapy, and the battle against pests, from viruses and harmful bacteria to fleas, ticks, and tapeworms. But science cannot help us beyond death. Science cannot tell us whether any part of our being survives death. Nor can science reveal the destiny of that surviving entity, whether it will go to heaven or to hell.

Science is limited to studying the physical world. It can measure and describe matter and energy, but science cannot observe anything that does not consist of matter or energy. Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, angels, demons, or the human soul. It is not scientific to say that science disproves those entities, because the rules of science do not permit science to determine anything about the nonmaterial world.

Therefore, anyone who puts his or her faith in science is as mistaken as someone who puts his or her faith in money, or in political power, or in one’s own good deeds, or in Baal or Zeus or Thor. Money and politics and good deeds all have value; they each have a place in our lives. But none of them can take the place of God. None of them can do what God does for his people.

One of the benefits of science is that it changes. New discoveries invalidate prevailing theories and force the creation and testing of new theories about the material world. Isaac Newton applied mathematics to science. He found the equation that describes how gravity works. After Newton, science grew more and more mechanical, with the hope that one day science could explain everything in the universe. But Albert Einstein and other twentieth-century scientists showed that Newton’s mathematical and mechanical universe only describes matter and energy of moderate size. The rules change with the very big, the very small, and the very powerful.

Because science changes, it is unreliable. One researcher says coffee is good for people; the next researcher says coffee is bad for people. Efforts to eradicate the spread of disease and improve the cultivation of crops have damaged the environment by killing off insects and poisoning the creatures that eat insects. Food additives, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and perhaps even life-saving vaccinations can have damaging side effects, which may explain the increase in recent times of autism, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and intolerance of one another. The poisonous social atmosphere in which we live may literally be poisoned by the same scientific advancements that were intended to improve our lives.

The person who relies on science and scientists to provide all Truth is missing a great deal. The knowledge that our souls will spend time elsewhere when we die—a better place or a worse place, depending upon who we know and trust—and that our bodies will be raised to eternal life at the dawn of the new creation—this knowledge shapes much of what we choose to do today. Knowing the Creator of the universe is far more important than knowing when and how the dinosaurs lived. Knowing that the life and death and resurrection of Jesus provides forgiveness of sins, fellowship with God, and victory over all enemies is far more important than encyclopedic knowledge of all the chemicals or all the planets and planetoids or all the subatomic particles.

One reason science seems to be more valuable than religion is that science has, over the years, provided material explanations for phenomena (such as thunderstorms and epileptic seizures) that were formerly attributed to spiritual causes. One might chart the number of phenomena that are explained by science and no longer attributed to spirits and assume that the need for religion will disappear. But even though science can improve our lives in this world, it gives us no reason to go on living. Nor can science guarantee eternal life in a better world after death in this world. Science cannot lift the guilt of a person who knows that he or she has done wrong. Science cannot teach people how to forgive one another and live in harmony. Science is beneficial, but it cannot replace religion. A life based on science is as empty as a life based on money or politics or entertainment.

I remain a fan of science. But my faith is in God. Science studies the things God made. Theology studies God. God is not too small for science; he is too big for science to grasp, too powerful for science to measure, too grand for science to explain. I thank God for all the things science has discovered about his creation. I praise God for who he is, information which science cannot supply. J.

Advent thoughts: December 21

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2—read Micah 5:1-6).

Once again Matthew assures us that a verse prophesies the coming of the Messiah, even though a quick reading of the chapter would seem to suggest that it concerns the days of the tribes of Israel being invaded by the Assyrian Empire. Matthew even makes a subtle change in his translation of the verse, rendering it, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matthew 2:6). The shepherd reference is borrowed from Micah 5:4, but the change from “too little” to “by no means least” would seem to be a contradiction and not a paraphrase.

“Too little to be among the clans,” but, “by no means least” fit together because of the meaning of the rest of the verse. Bethlehem was a small town; but it has become the most famous small town in the world because Jesus was born there. The victory Jesus was born to win was far bigger than any victory over an Assyrian army. Jesus defeated all the forces of evil, including our sins and the power of death. For that reason, the prophet Micah looked beyond the fearsome invaders of his time to focus on the victory that matters more than any other, because it defeats the forces that cause wars and other violence on earth.

The Bible experts used Micah’s prophecy to tell King Herod where the Messiah would be born. They chose a simple verse for a king who ruled over the Jews but did not understand their faith. The experts knew that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem, not because of a single verse in Micah, but because of the promise God made to David. God told David that one of his descendants would rule an eternal kingdom. To inherit the throne of David, the Savior-King had to be born in David’s hometown. Sharing a birthplace was necessary because of the terms of the old covenant.

God stressed a connection between his chosen people and the Promised Land. Each plot of land was to remain the property of the same family. They could not sell land; they could only rent it out for a time if they needed money. God wanted his people to be good stewards of the land. His concern for stewardship of the land was expressed already to Adam and Eve in the beginning. They and all their descendants were to care for the planet and especially for its living beings. God did not say that people could do whatever they want with the land and with plants and animals. Part of the Judgment to be announced on the Day of the Lord will be the matter of how well or how poorly we have cared for the planet.

We must confess that we have not, for the most part, been good stewards of God’s creation. Some areas have been farmed to exhaustion and have become human-made deserts. Others have been poisoned by human-made pollution. Habitats have been stolen for human use. Habitat loss and careless hunting has driven many species into extinction. When Jesus is seen on his throne of judgment, he will have things to say about the way we treated his world.

Yet the forgiveness of Jesus covers even our sins against the planet. One reason Jesus went to the cross was to pay the penalty for all the times we have damaged and destroyed the world he created.  Jesus is not pleased to see mismanagement of his creation, but that sin is forgiven through his life and death and resurrection. Forgiveness is not license to continue sinning; forgiveness gives us power to reverse our mistakes, to do what is right instead of what is wrong.

The King who inherits David’s throne is also a Shepherd to protect his flock so we live in safety and are not threatened by our enemies. He is our peace—through him we are at peace with God, at peace with one another, and at peace with all creation. Coming from ancient times—indeed, from outside of time—Jesus comes to rescue us and to claim us. We belong to him and his kingdom forever. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 20

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1—read Hosea 11:1-9).

According to Matthew 1:15, Hosea was talking about Jesus when he uttered the words, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” Looking at Hosea’s prophecy, it is not easy to find Jesus. The prophet seems to be talking about the nation Israel, not about Jesus. God speaks of his kindness to his chosen people, describes their sin and the punishment they deserve, but concludes by describing his warm and tender compassion. Though they deserve judgment and punishment, God will not pour out his wrath on his people. He will treat them according to the new covenant of grace and not according to the old covenant.

The new covenant is only possible because of Jesus, but Matthew’s point is more profound than that simple fact. In taking God’s words about Israel and applying them to Jesus, Matthew is showing Jesus to be the new Israel. In the days of Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, the descendants of Abraham moved to Egypt to escape famine in the Promised Land. At first, they were honored guests, but they later became slaves. God raised up Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He brought them first to Mount Sinai, where God made a covenant with the nation. Then they started toward the Promised Land. When they heard about the strength of the people living in Canaan, the Israelites lost their nerve. They doubted God’s promises to give them the victory. Therefore, the Israelites who had left Egypt wandered in the wilderness for forty years until they all had died. The next generation then followed Joshua across the Jordan River and conquered the Canaanites as God had promised.

The journey of the Israelites under Moses and Joshua was delayed because of sin and doubt. God called Israel his son, but Israel was a disobedient son. When the right time arrived, God sent his Son to retrace the steps of Israel. Like Abraham’s son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob, and Jacob’s twelve sons, Jesus was born in the Promised Land. But, like Jacob and his family, Jesus and his parents fled to Egypt for a time. When they returned to the Promised Land, they did not doubt God’s power to protect them. Although they relocated to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem, they did not hesitate in the wilderness.

When he was a man, Jesus returned to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The Israelites led by Moses sinned repeatedly against the Lord in the wilderness, but Jesus did not sin. He said no to every temptation from the devil. He remained faithful to his Father, trusting his promises and obeying his commands. Through his obedience, Jesus was able to establish a new covenant between God and his people. Jesus bore the wrath of the old covenant so God’s people could be spared that wrath. Jesus suffered to become victorious over all evil. Jesus died to defeat death. Jesus rose to share his victory and his new covenant with all people.

We are children of God, adopted into his family through the new covenant. In Baptism we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We are also his Church, the body of Christ. Therefore, in a sense, we traveled into Egypt with Mary and Joseph and Jesus. In a sense, we retraced the steps of the ancient Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. In a sense, we got it right along with Jesus, even though our predecessors on this path got it wrong.

Because of the new covenant, God’s compassion for us grows warm and tender. He will not execute burning anger at us or come in wrath against us, because that anger and wrath was poured out on Jesus on the cross. Because Jesus suffered and died and rose, we will not be destroyed. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 19

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31—read Jeremiah 31:31-34).

God’s love is more important to him than his justice. God has justice and righteousness, but God is love. His grace is greater than his law. He prefers rescuing sinners rather than punishing them.

Therefore, God’s new covenant is older than his old covenant. The old covenant comes first to diagnose our need for a Savior, but the new covenant was in God’s mind when he began to create the world. God knew that his people would sin. He knew they would need a Savior, because they would not be able to rescue themselves from sin and evil. He knew that he would have to pay the full price to redeem sinners. Knowing these things, God chose to create the world and chose to continue his plan of redemption.

So, God gave the old covenant to his chosen people. He said, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” He told them what it meant to be his people: to have no other gods; to honor his name and his time and the earthly authorities that represent his authority; to love their neighbors and respect their neighbors’ lives, marriages, property, and reputations; and to be content with what God provided them, not coveting what belonged to their neighbors. He said that if they kept their side of the covenant, he would provide them with safety and prosperity. If they broke the terms of the old covenant, he would cause famine and drought and poverty, and he would allow them to fall into the hands of their enemies.

The old covenant is conditional. The new covenant is unconditional. Because his people broke the terms of the old covenant, he allowed them to be afflicted by drought and famine. He allowed them to be afflicted by Midianites and Philistines and Assyrians and Babylonians. He allowed them to be captured and carried off into captivity. Even the holy city Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord were destroyed under the terms of the old covenant because his chosen people were unfaithful to the Lord.

At the same time that they preached about the old covenant and the consequences of breaking God’s commands, Moses and the prophets also spoke of a new covenant. Moses prepared the people for a king and priest and prophet. Isaiah repeatedly told of the coming servant who would be Immanuel, God with us. Jeremiah specifically promised a new covenant that would be different from the old covenant, because it would be based on God’s faithfulness and not on the faithfulness of the people.

“I will be their God, and they will be my people,” God said. Those words belong to both the old covenant and the new covenant. Under the terms of the old covenant, the thoughts and words and actions of the people determined whether they remained God’s people. Under the terms of the new covenant, the thoughts and words and actions of God determine whether we remain God’s people.

Old Testament believers were saved by faith through grace under the terms of the new covenant. They believed the promise of a coming Savior. New Testament believers are saved by grace through faith under the terms of the new covenant. We believe that the Savior has come—he is Christ, the Lord—and he has kept all the promises upon which the new covenant depends. He has lived a life of perfect righteousness, earning rewards which he shares with his people. He has offered that life as a sacrifice, removing the sins of his people. He has risen from the dead, victorious over all enemies, sharing that victory with his people.

“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” God knows everything, but he is able to forget. Between his birth and his resurrection, Jesus forgot the date of his glorious appearing on the Day of the Lord. God has forgotten the iniquity of his people because Jesus paid in full for those sins. God has forgotten the iniquity of his people because our sins were killed with him on the cross, buried with him, and left dead and buried when Jesus rose from the dead. God has forgotten the iniquity of his people because he has removed our sins from us “as far as the east is from the west.” We belong to him forever. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts–December 18

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1—read Isaiah 60:1-7).

The contrast of light and darkness is one of the great recurring themes of the Bible. The first thing God created when he made the heavens and the earth was light, and then God separated the light from the darkness. John begins his Gospel writing about the Word, who is the light and the life of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overtaken it. Isaiah said that the people sitting in darkness have seen a great light. Both Isaiah and Simeon called Jesus a light to enlighten the nations. Now Isaiah calls upon God’s people to arise and shine, because our light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.

Jesus told his disciples that they are the lights of the world. Jesus also declared himself to be the Light of the world. He is the primary light; his disciples are secondary lights. He shines like the sun; we shine like windows through whom the sun shines. When Jesus shines through us, his light enlightens others. As we share his promises and the good news of his victory over evil, we do our job as windows, letting his light shine into the lives of others.

Without Jesus we cannot shine. His light comes first and passes through us. Along the way, his commandments reveal our flaws and our faults. When someone washes the windows on a cloudy day, the streaks and smears might not be visible. When the sunlight shines brightly on that window, every missed spot and every speck of dirt can be seen.

We might not want Jesus to shine on us and show our sins. But the light of Jesus does something that sunlight never does to windows: his light removes the dirt and makes us pure and holy. When his light shines through us, we become clean; and because of that cleansing, the light is all the more able to shine through us to enlighten others.

Isaiah pursues that theme as he describes the nations coming to the light of Israel. Isaiah even mentions the nations bringing gifts of gold and frankincense. The wise men who followed a star to find Jesus in Bethlehem were the first of the nations to seek the light in Israel. Centurions in the Roman army also sought help from Jesus during his years of ministry, and one came into the Church early in its history through Peter’s ministry. An Ethiopian official was told about Jesus and was baptized by the deacon Philip. Paul preached to Jews and to the nations, to whomever would listen, and over the course of three hundred years the Roman Empire became a Christian nation. Now the Gospel continues to be spread throughout the world. As missionaries teach about Jesus, people hear and believe and are saved: God’s kingdom comes, and God’s will is done. Thanks be to God! J.