Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Come Toward the Light
The first strophe of this salvation poem summarizes the rest of the poem. Take note of the repetition of the word come through-out the passage. The central word is "glory" (kabhod). In verse 1, "Arise, shine" is an invitation to Israel to bask in God's glory. Israel had known darkness. Now God's glory "shines" and Israel is invited to respond to this 1nanifestation by rising from its despair. The light itself is a gift of God, a chance for Jerusalem to glow for all to see. The light is also God come and Israel's only source of hope. Verse 2 expresses the contrast between "light" and "darkness," the difference between Jerusalem filled with God's glory, and the rest of the world. Verse 3 tells how all nations will come to the light. It may be summarized by Isaiah 40:5: "The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together."
Come to the Light
In the second stanza, the poet uses words to create a picture of what is taking place if Israel will only look. Others will see Jerusalem reflecting the glory and will come. They are drawn by the light. Sons and daughters of Israel will return, those who have been scattered away from home long after the official homecoming. They will return with wealth from other nations and bring it to the altar (v. 7). When Israel sees, emotions will change from despair to joy, like a mother who has not seen her children in years. There is a thrill that comes with the glorious return.
Come to Worship
Verse 6 tells of others who are coming and bringing exotic gifts such as gold and frankincense. This shows that the nations too are coming to submit themselves to God's new future. All go before the altar to behold God's glory. God's presence gives the gift of life to Jerusalem and all the nations.
During my son Andrew's first Christmas, we brought him into the living room to see the Christmas tree for the first time. He was amazed as we plugged in the lights for the tree. He was drawn by the light to go and investigate the tree. In the eyes of this young child, we saw the wonder, curiosity, and joy that the light on the tree brought him.
We all sometimes need to be reminded that we are God's children who need to come to the "light" as well. Just as Jerusalem was to be the light on a hill for all nations to see God's glory, we need to come toward this "light" so that we too may be transformed by life in God's presence. This life in the presence of God should be one of wonder, curiosity, and joy, like that of a young child. By acknowledging and being transformed by the "light," we too can participate in God's kingdom. The essence of the passage is reflected in the hymn Arise, Your Light Is Come by Ruth Duck: "Show forth the glory of your God/Which shines on you today."
Excerpt: Preaching and Worshiping in Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Years A, B,C