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January 4, 2004
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the the book of Isaiah, chapter 60, and follow along as I read verses 1-6. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
We take our our eyesight seriously. More than a million Americans every year let an ophthalmologist take a small excimer knife, called a microkeratome, and cut the flap of the cornea, so that a laser can be used to change the shape of the cornea, so that they will not need to wear contacts or eyeglasses anymore. It is called LASIK surgery, which is an acronym for Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis. A hinge is left at one end of the flap which is then folded back, revealing the stroma, or the middle section of the cornea. Pulses from a computer-controlled laser vaporize a portion of the stroma, and the flap is replaced.
This procedure helps millions of people to see better. Yet, one of the wonders of our world is that it is full of light and radiance—even on dark and gloomy January days — but only a tiny sliver of all this radiance is visible to the human eye. Our eyes are designed to detect only visible light, which is a tiny slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. All other forms of light are completely invisible to us.
Take infrared light. We cannot see it, but in this case our blindness is really a blessing. Since any heat-emitting object glows with infrared light, we would be constantly distracted by those wavelengths if we could see them. Some creatures can see infared though. Some deep-sea shrimp living near hot vents in the ocean see infrared light, which makes perfect sense for them. They need to see the heat, but we do not.
Or how about long, stretched-out radio waves, another part of the electromagnetic spectrum? In order to detect this kind of light, we would have to have huge eyes, like satellite dishes. Can you imagine having dish eyes. Our head would be much bigger, and would be mostly eyes, and would in large part be useless.
So, here is the point. Our human eyes do pretty well for us, for what we need them to do. Each eye has about 125 million rods and cones, specialized cells with such enormous sensitivity that some can detect a mere handful of photons of visible light. Joel Achenbach writes in National Geographic that the position of our eyes, protected by the skull and located close to the brain, is evidence that visual data is important to our well-being. About one-fifth of our brain has the job of doing nothing but processing information from the eyes.
But processing the light that Isaiah calls “the glory of the LORD” (60:1) is quite another matter. This light is a wavelength that does not require dish eyes big enough to capture radio waves, but it requires another kind of eye. It requires the eye of faith.
The glory of the Lord is a powerful radiance that changes the face of anyone who looks upon it. Remember that the face of Moses began to shine when he talked with God directly, so much so that he had to put on a veil to keep from frightening the people of Israel (Exodus 34:29-35).
This is the powerful light that appeared later when Jesus was born, and the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds in Bethlehem, terrifying them (Luke 2:9). Simeon said that the baby Jesus was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). The apostle Paul rejoiced that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Thus, Isaiah’s words of prophecy are fulfilled not in the times of Isaiah nor in the Old Testament, but only in Jesus Christ. Christ is the light that has come. Christ is “the glory of the LORD” that has risen upon us. The darkness of sin covered the earth, a thick darkness that separated us from God, but Christ arose among us, and became the brightness of our lives. When we see with the eye of faith, we see the people of God gathering in Christ, and our hearts rejoice, and we praise God.
The glory of the Lord is intense, overwhelming, frightening at times … but most of all it’s illuminating. It makes us aware of the presence of God. The gospel of John says that when the Word of God became flesh and lived among us, it was then that we saw “the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Grace and truth become clear in the light of the glory of God. So why do we not perceive the glory, the light, grace and truth? This is a good question to ask at the beginning of this new year, 2004. What will we see this year? What kind of eye do we have as we step into a new year of opportunities and challenges?
We do not need the eye of cynicism. Sometimes the world is hard, and people fail us. We hoped that they live authentic lives of love, but we see so much selfishness and greed that it is easy to grow cynical, and to expect the worst of everyone. These cynical expectations color the way we live our own lives. If we only expect the worst of other people, we come to expect the worst of ourselves and nothing at all of God. That is no way to live.
We do not need the eye of materialism. Some folks say that nothing is real except the visible world. Unless we can see it, touch it, taste it, hear it, smell it—they say it is not there. They do not believe in an unseen God, who cares about us. They say that religion is a bunch of promises by a make-believe deity for the popular consumption of the gullible and naïve. They are the Doubting Thomases and the “Show-Me” Missourians. That is the way they see it.
Not everyone “sees” it that way. St. Anselm [Anselm, Proslogion 1] said: “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this I believe--that unless I believe, I should not understand.” Anselms point is that we need faith eyes. We need a new prescription for a new set of lenses that will enable us to see what we have never seen before.
We need the lens of Scripture. We have not read and studied the Word the way we should. In 2004, we need to get back to the Bible, so that we can see better.
We need the lens of the church: We need the encouragement and support of a community of faith. It’s a new year. Time to get back to the church, so that we can see better.
We need the lens of worship: We need to feed our souls so that the eyes of faith will remain healthy. It’s a new year. Time to get back to worship, so that we can see better.
We need the lens of service: We need to get outside of ourselves to minister to others. Removing the focus from ourselves to others will make the eyes of faith much stronger. It’s a new year. It’s time to get back to service, so that we can see better.
Above all, we need the lens of love: We need to apply compassion and charity to those around us. Love is the ointment that heals the eyes of faith. Indeed, love, as Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 13, opens the eyes of faith and hope. It’s a new year. Time to get back to love, so that we can see better.
Faith eyes can pick up divine light in times of deep darkness, and this was as true in the first century as it is today. There was not much brightness in Judea in the time of King Herod, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Herod’s reign was an absolute orgy of violence and bloodshed. Full of insecurity, Herod ordered the killing of his brother-in-law, his uncle and then his wife. Fearing loss of power, he went on to execute his mother-in-law, a son and then two more sons. At one point, Caesar Augustus remarked that he would rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son!
Those were dark days, evil days, but through the blackness, some kept their focus on the light. Wise men from the East came looking for Jesus, and after working their way around Herod they found the baby in a house with Mary his mother (Matthew 2:1-12). They offered him wonderful gifts, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that they “shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD” (Isaiah 60:6). These men were the kings that the prophet said would come to the brightness of his dawn (v. 3). The wise men had eyes of faith. They could see light in the darkness, the light of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Our challenge is to focus on this light as well, and to trust that Christ is always present — even in times of chaos. It was 21 years ago this month that an Air Florida jetliner crashed into the Potomac River in Washington. There were 79 people on board, but only five of them survived the crash into the icy river water. David Van Arsdale reminds us that the five who survived owed their lives to an unknown person referred to by rescuers as the “sixth man.” The rescuers reported that the rope from the helicopter came to this man over and over again, but he passed it on to the other five as they hung on for life, floating on debris in the frozen water. By the time the helicopter returned for the sixth man, he had slipped beneath the ice and drowned.
Reflecting on the event, the pilot in the rescue helicopter said, “Imagine! He had just survived that horrible crash. The river was ice-cold, and each minute brought him closer to death … He could have gone on the first trip but he put everyone else ahead of himself.” The sixth man was a brave and good man, a person who had not asked the others about their religion, job, political preferences or even family status. No, he simply did what he could to save them, and he gave his life in the process. He had faith eyes.
Some light can always be found, if you have the eyes of faith. In fact, none of the shadows we encounter in day-to-day life are totally dark and depressing — they all contain some small amount of light. David Lynch is co-author of a book called Color and Light in Nature. Lynch points out that a shadow is filled with light reflected from the sky — otherwise it would be completely black. If you want to see a completely black shadow, one that has no brightness at all, you have to go to the moon. Black is the way that shadows on the moon looked to the Apollo astronauts, because the moon has no atmosphere to bounce light into the dark corners of the lunar surface. Even in our shadow times — our times of disappointment, failure, temptation and tension — God is going to bounce some light into our darkness.
The good news for us is that faith eyes are not given to us at birth — they are developed over a lifetime of looking. If we are willing to search for the light of God in times of deep darkness, we will find it. If we look hard for Jesus Christ in situations of chaos and confusion, we will discover him. If we train our eyes on the small glimmers of light that appear in our shadow times, we will emerge from the blackness that threatens to overwhelm us.
Although darkness shall cover the earth, promises Isaiah, “the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you” (v. 2). No dish eyes are needed, just the eyes of faith. With eyes of faith, we can see the light of God, and we can reflect that light to all who walk in darkness. We can tell others of God’s light in Christ, and invite them to walk with us. With eyes of faith, where others see only failure; we see hope; where others despair, we are lifted up in love. Depend then not upon the eye of cynicism or materialism. Depend upon the eye of faith. That is the eye we need in 2004. Amen.
Achenbach, Joel. “The power of light.” National Geographic, October 1, 2001. Magma.nationalgeographic.com.
Van Arsdale, David L. “Seeing others through the eyes of faith.” February 9, 2003, First Presbyterian Web Site, Kalamazoofirstpres.org.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 03/23/04