by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
January 7, 2018
TEXTS: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 119:105; Matthew 2:1-12

I invite the kids to come join me up here on the floor for just a few minutes!

Good morning! Happy New Year! Wow! I haven't seen most of you since last year! I'm glad you are here today.

It sure has been cold, hasn't it? And kind of dark and gloomy at times, huh? It really helps when the sun shines, doesn't it? You know what happened the other night? I was working on the computer and Pastor Greg was working in the kitchen and all of the sudden everything went black! We were both sitting in complete darkness!! The power had gone completely out!! We didn't know how long it was going to be dark or how cold it would get in our house! Has that ever happened at your house? It can be a little scary, huh? Well, Greg had just brought home this lantern that he had won at a Christmas party. So, I ran to get this and I flipped the switch and I suddenly had enough light to get around the house with just enough light. I sure was glad I had the light to help me see - and to get around for my very next step.

Today we are starting a new season in our church calendar that has everything to do with light! Do you remember what season we talked about last year? Advent. That's right. Well, we have now come to the season of Epiphany. Can you all say that with me? Epiphany. Epiphany lasts for about 6 weeks, always at the beginning of the year. Do any of you know what Epiphany means? It means to show or reveal. Do you know what was shown or revealed that first Epiphany? It was a star to lead the wise men to place where Jesus was living with his parents in Bethlehem. That star was really bright - the wise men had been following it from the east … about 1000 miles away from Bethlehem. They followed that light until they found Jesus, the Messiah, the Light of the World. Because of that star - and more importantly, because Jesus came and was revealed as the Light of the world! So light is a symbol of Epiphany. It says in Scripture that Jesus shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put the light of Jesus out.

All throughout the season of Epiphany, we are going to be talking about light and how important it is for us to have light. And to help us remember that light, we are going to flip the switch on those lamps over there that will shine brightly all throughout Epiphany. Will someone go over there are flip that switch and turn them on?

I think it would have been amazing to have seen that star over Bethlehem. I wish sometimes we had a light that would show us the way to go - like the star did for the wise men! And the good news is that we do! Our Bible is like that for us. It shows us the way to live and to walk. In fact, in Psalm 119:105 we read these words: "Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." And that is going to be our theme song for Epiphany this year. Does anyone know that song? Well, we are going to learn it. Look at the words on the screen and listen as I sing it once. And then sing along with me on the second time. You ready? Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Great job!

My challenge for you is to memorize that verse, ok? And we'll sing it again next week in worship.

Alright, here is a sticker for you to remember our other Scripture verse for today from Isaiah that says, "Arise Shine for your light has come!" Say that with me: "Arise Shine for your light has come!" I want you to take a sticker and put that on your hand. And then take a sticker back to the people you are sitting with and give it to them and say, "Arise, shine, for your light has come!"

Thanks for coming up to talk with me for a few moments!

Oh, how we need that light, don't we? On days when we don't really see the sunlight, and it is so cold, it can be kind of depressing, can't it? Much of the nation is experiencing Winter Storm Grayson - and think about the northeast, where they are having a bomb cyclone - with blizzard conditions. While we have been really cold, at least we have had the sunshine to help us. That always helps with our moods, doesn't it? But think about living in a place like Barrow, Alaska. While its temperature is similar to the subzero temperatures we have been having - they don't have any sunshine for 65 days or so. The sun sets in early November and doesn't rise again to shine until the latter part of January!!! Up there, the earth is tilted in such a way that the sun never shows up for over 2 months out of the year. When the sun does rise for a moment on January 24, the whole town comes out to celebrate, because there is light again! It is almost like Epiphany - when the sun finally reveals itself.

In the church year, the Epiphany season is a celebration of the Son appearing - the S-O-N of God appearing to brighten the world that was so filled with the darkness! The light that came was actually a fulfillment of a prophecy - written by Isaiah six centuries before Jesus was born!

Turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 60, somewhat near the middle of your Bible, right before the book of Jeremiah. Isaiah was speaking to the Israelites who were living in a very dark place. They had been in exile in Babylon, and they were finally returning to their homeland in Israel - BUT - their city was in ruins. And the first attempts to rebuild the temple was dismal. The people were weak, defenseless and poor. There was a great sense of discouragement and even depression - everything seemed dark. Have you ever felt that way? That things were just falling apart and there seems to be little hope?

Well, today's message - while written about 2,600 years ago - is a message for you and me! It's a message of great hope, particularly for the exiled Israelites returning to Jerusalem. But, there are also many verses that point to Jesus and gives hope to you and me today. Listen as I read portions of Isaiah 60, beginning at verse 1.

1"Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the LORD rises to shine on you. 2 Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,

but the glory of the LORD rises and appears over you.

3 All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

4 "Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands;

your little daughters will be carried home.

5 Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy,

for merchants from around the world will come to you.

They will bring you the wealth of many lands.

6 Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,

the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense

and will come worshiping the LORD.

Sure sounds like the magi coming to see Jesus as described in Matthew 2, doesn't it? The next verses talk about how God will bring the exiles home and they will know great joy and they will finally know that God is our Savior and Redeemer. Skip down to verse 19. And think about how Jesus is described in our gospels and in the book of Revelation. Jesus truly is our everlasting light that the darkness - those difficult times of life cannot overcome. Verse 19 and 20 read this way:

19 "No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night,

for the LORD your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

20 Your sun will never set; your moon will not go down.

For the LORD will be your everlasting light. Your days of mourning will come to an end.

One day, as Rev. 21 describes it - in heaven we will not need any sun nor moon because God will be our light. But I also think that God is telling us because of Jesus, being the light of the world - He is our everlasting light - and nothing - no pain or sorrow, fear or worry - will ever be able to extinguish that light.

Have you ever gone through periods of darkness and sadness? I know I have. Maybe that is where you are right now. Times when you weren't sure where to take the next step - how to see around the next corner - and worried about what the future will bring? The road seems rough and rocky and you are just weary of the journey.

I know I experienced a time like this - literally - when my family went to Mount Sinai in Egypt, in 2011. It all started out very exciting. We were at the place where some believe Moses received the 10 commandments. We were going to ride camels to the top of Mount Sinai, which is 7,500 high in elevation. It was a beautiful uphill climb on camels. But the camels can't go to the very top. To get to the top, you have to hike about another 750 steps that are very steep and rugged.. All the men of our family decided to do this, but Mary and I decided to wait for them at the camel stations.

The guys were able to see a glorious sunset at the top of Mount Sinai - and Mary and I got to see the sunset from the vantage point of Elijah's basin, where Elijah was thought to have heard the "still small voice of God." But look how dark it got after sunset. And Greg and the boys still had to come back down those rugged steep steps in the dark! We anxiously awaited their return - and kept looking for their flashlights to arrive, coming down the hill. We were thrilled to finally see their light shining in the darkness.

Well, guess what? The camels can't take you back down the mountain in the dark. So, when the guide arrived back with the men, we had to make the trip back down the mountain on foot - in the dark! Talk about being afraid! You remember that picture I showed you of how rocky and steep that trail was. It was downhill - and rocky - and I was so afraid of slipping and falling. And it took about 3 hours by foot to get back down!!

Have you ever had those times in your life where everything was going uphill - you were loving life. And then all of the sudden, it turned dark and you were scared. Things were going downhill and you were so afraid of falling or failing - or that the people you loved would fall. What do you do? How do you handle the fear - the worry and anxiety?

Well, I can tell you what I did when I was literally going downhill on a very slippery, rocky slope where I could easily lose my footing and fall. First of all, I clung to a flash light that gave me just enough light for my very next step. Then I kept quoting Scripture - especially Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" - or Psalm 56:3, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you!" And then I really, really leaned on Greg and the guide. I had Greg on one side and the guide on the other and I knew that if I did stumble or trip, they would be there to catch me. And they both kept encouraging me, telling me I could do it and spurring me on. I was so thrilled to finally reach the bottom and walk on level ground.

As we go throughout life, we will literally have those times that are glorious - uphill times where we experience all sorts of sunshine and joy. But there will be times when everything seems rocky and dark and maybe even treacherous. One misstep can be enough to upset us and rob us of the peace and joy that God wants us to have. We can feel like there is no hope - no light for the dark places where we are walking.

This Epiphany - we want to focus on Jesus the Light of the World - the everlasting light that gives us hope for each day of life. He is that constant presence in our lives that will give us light and power as we walk - giving us just the right amount of light for each step we take - one step at a time. As we follow His leading and trust in Him - there will always be enough light for each step of the way. Jesus will always be there to shed His light on every dark stretch you ever walk - including the valley of the shadow of death - and even there, you will know the light of Christ that will carry you home!

And we know that it is through the light of God's word, we can find hope and promise that will guide us on our journey. As it says in Psalm 119:105 - "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light my path." God's words can give us strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

And the good news, is that God has sent us the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us --- as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are there to encourage us and spur us on - and can even be there to catch us and hold us close if we fall!

As we begin this new year, we have all sorts of things we can do to literally be "light-hearted" - focused on the light and grow in our faith. I have a couple of hand-outs that I have asked the deacons to pass out at this time, that I think will help us be "light-hearted and light-focused" in 2018. So, can the deacons please do that, right now?

The first one is about a Bible reading plan. Some of you have recently asked me about reading the Bible in a year. The only way you can have God's word be a light for your pathway, to guide your every step, is if you read God's word and store it in your heart. So, we are giving you a daily reading plan you might choose to do. Or, if you want to find a different plan, there are some suggestions at the bottom of the page where you can find other plans. This year - make a commitment to read through God's word!

And then, as we go through our sermon series "Led by the Light" for the next 6 weeks we will be encouraging you to do different spiritual exercises. On your other hand-out are listed challenges that we hope everyone will participate in, each week of Epiphany. You will notice for this week, you are encouraged to take home a candle from the church. These candles are up here in a basket, as well as some at the back of the church. Take a candle and then throughout the 6 weeks, light that candle each time you have your time of Bible reading and prayer and devotion - and pray for God's light to shine brightly in your life.

Keep this hand-out in your Bible OR post on your bulletin board or fridge at home - because there will be more activities to do throughout the rest of our sermon series that you will want to participate in. It will definitely help you apply the word of God that we hear each Sunday - and hopefully make the light of Christ shine brighter in your life.

And if your friend or relative wasn't able to get to church this morning, please pick up a candle for him or her and take a hand-out to them. We want as many people to participate as possible.

As we come to a close then today, I invite you to stand and pray with me a prayer that Mother Teresa used to pray daily - a prayer to be filled with the light of Christ so much so that we can reflect that light to others. May it be that this Epiphany, it can be our prayer as well. Please pray the prayer, as you see it on the screen before you:

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Your spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through me and be so in me, that every soul I come in contact with, may feel Your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, to shine Your light to others. Amen.1