I’ve been wondering lately. What happened to sunny Florida? We still get sun, but, it hasn’t been as sunny as normal. Have you noticed it, the rain, the clouds, even the sticky humidity? Isn’t summer over?
But I still remember what it was like when I lived in the Northeast, and that was far worse. I’m not talking about the cold and snow. I could handle that. No, what really got to me was the lack of sun. Week after week I would wake up to a smothering blanket of clouds. Sure it was light. I knew the sun was there somewhere. But I couldn’t see it. No one could. And not seeing it drained me. It was awful.
In fact, not seeing the sun is so awful, so draining for many folks, that they get seriously depressed, even kill themselves. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD (which is kind of appropriate). Doctors even prescribe sun lamps to keep these SAD folks healthy when they lack sun.
Now here’s the stunning truth, Jesus expects those who follow him to be as life-giving as the sun, lights shining in the midst of a dark world. He even called us that. He said in Matthew 5. “You are the light of the world.” And what is the light of the world? It’s the sun.
Christians should be so incredibly life-giving, that when you don’t see them around it depresses you. Can you imagine if that were true? If someone didn’t hang around Christians for a while, they’d get depressed. Doctors would even diagnose it, SCAD (Scarcity of Christians Affective Disorder). They’d ask you to get some Christian friends so you’d feel better.
But how does that happen? How do Christians become that life-giving, that vibrant and joyful? It has happened before. It’s how the church spread from a few hundred followers to millions in the space of a few hundred years. But how did it happen? How can it happen again? In these powerful prophetic words, God points the way. Let’s hear what God has to say.
It’s stunning really. Isaiah talks about a time when those who follow God will shine so radiantly that entire nations will be drawn to them. The rulers of the world will come “to the brightness of your dawn.” How do followers of Jesus become radiant like that? Here in Isaiah, God tells us. It happens when the ultimate radiance, when God, the source of all life, truth and beauty dwells within us. And how does that indwelling happen? It happens when we grasp the truth of who we are, and see the beauty of what God has done for us. The more we do, the more God’s life grows within us.
After all any light we have comes from God. And that’s where Isaiah begins. He talks about God as the Sun, as God’s coming as the dawn. And what an image that is. Have you even been at the ocean at sunrise, seen how dark it is, and then that first glimmer of light on the horizon, how it stretches and grows. Before you know it, that rising sun has literally lit up the world. It is amazing, and it happens every day!
Yet how we take the sun for granted. Do you realize nothing living would exist without it? But beyond simply the life it gives us, it gives us truth too. We see things more clearly in the light. In the end it is only light that enables us to see anything. But beyond truth and life, the sun gives us beauty. The sun opens us to the vibrant colors of the world. Its very presence makes the world more beautiful. What a great image to use to describe God. Even so, it’s limited.
After all, God doesn’t simply give life to this planet. God gives life to everything. God undergirds all of reality. Without God, reality would collapse. Now, some folks wonder. Well, if God is that huge, why don’t we have more evidence of God? Well, if you are part of reality, it’s going to be pretty hard for you to discern what lies beneath it. Heck, when it comes to reality itself, we know so little. Do you know how much of the universe we can actually see, and I’m talking with telescopes and colliders, everything we have? 4%. That’s it. Why? Because the other 96% of the universe doesn’t interact with light. Light passes through it like it’s not even there. We have no clue, even now, about 96% of the universe.
But God doesn’t simply undergird all reality, from God comes all truth and beauty. Only in God do we see clearly. And all that is beautiful comes from God. God is the author of all beauty.
But Isaiah doesn’t stop with God as the sun. Isaiah tells us that this God will shine upon us, that through us, God’s radiance will shine into the world. In that radiance, war will end. Beauty will blossom as never before. And all the world will see in us the life of God bursting forth. Now Isaiah is giving a vision of the final day, of the end to which God is moving all history. Still, that light should be showing a bit right now, that radiance should be starting to shine forth already. But how does it shine forth? How does that light grow within us?
Well, let me first tell you how it doesn’t happen. If I had a brick here, and I piled up another brick and another brick and another. You would say that the bricks are growing, yes? But a few years ago, we also planted some trees down where we have the pumpkin patch, and when we planted them, they were maybe 15 feet tall. But now I look at them, they must be almost thirty feet tall. That’s some growth, yeah?
God grows the life within us the same way that tree grows, but too often people think that God’s life grows in us like the bricks. They think. Ok, if I attend worship, serve the church, do the right things, obey the rules, if I pile up good deeds, then the life of God grows within me. But God’s growth doesn’t work that way. The life of God doesn’t grow mechanically in us like brick upon brick. It grows organically like a tree.
That’s why you can have people who can be part of a church for years, and still pretty much be the same people they were when they first came in. Whatever good deeds, they’ve piled up on the outside hasn’t changed anything on the inside. It’s all mechanical. Do you realize that two of the most famous Christians ever, Martin Luther and John Wesley, were both ministers before either of them became Christians, before, by their own accounts, they experienced the life of God in them. They were both doing lots of good things. But they were growing like a pile of bricks not like a tree. They were not changing on the inside.
If you’ve been a Christian for a while, are you a happier person than you were two years ago? Are you harder to discourage? Are you humbler, able to take criticism better? Are you wiser, more self-aware than you used to be? Do you worry less? If you don’t know, ask someone close to you. Am I growing? I wonder how many of you won’t ask simply because you are afraid of the answer. But here’s the question. If it’s not happening, are you children of the light then? Has God’s glory really appeared over you? Because if it has, then you grow, not simply in the things you do, but who you are. The light of God changes you. God’s life lives within you. You grow in love and peace and joy and patience and humility and wisdom and self-control. And if you grow like that, than you become incredibly attractive.
In the early days of Christianity, so many believers were persecuted that the church had to worry about informers infiltrating their gatherings. So non-believers, the non-baptized, could not come to worship gatherings. The Deacons even served as bouncers to keep them out. But the church still grew remarkably rapidly. So how did it happen, if you couldn’t even invite your friends to hear the preacher? It happened because simply the lives of Christians magnetically attracted others. Their generosity, their kindness, their integrity; how they welcomed others into their homes, even strangers; how they handled suffering and how they cared for the poor; all of it stunned those around them. It made them irresistibly attractive.
So how does that sort of attractive, magnetic life happen? Let’s go back to that Sun metaphor. The light and life of God grows within you when you see two things: when you see the truth of who you are, and the beauty of what God has done.
After all, when the lights come on, what happens? You see things. When God’s light dawns in you, you see things in yourself that you never saw before.
When I was in college, my friends and I went to a dance club, called the FOE club. Now it wasn’t the fanciest club in the world, but I thought it was still pretty nice. But I only saw it in the dark. But then, I visited the club during the day. What a shock! The placed looked awful, worn, stained carpet, tables with water-marks and nicks, holes in the ceiling. It was revolting. After that, I never saw the place the same way again.
So how do you know the light of God is dawning in your life? You have a FOE club experience. You see yourself like never before, and what you see isn’t pretty. You see your flaws, your dirty places; stuff that you made excuses for before, or didn’t even see. The more the light of God dawns in you, the more you see that stuff. That’s what it means to become a Christian. You look at your life, and you never see it the same way again.
Before the light of God dawns, you look at verses like we’re going to look at in Romans in the New Year. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No one is righteous, no not one.” And you think. How pessimistic! How exaggerated. I know lots of good people. I’m not perfect, but I do good things. But when the light comes on, you realize. If everything, even my very existence, comes from God, then everything I do should be for God. But you realize. You’ve probably never done anything for God ever. Even your good deeds weren’t for God. You did them to get praise, to feel good about yourself. Even your religious deeds were all about you. And you see that everything in your life is tainted by that, twisted by it into something not pretty at all. And if you don’t see that yet, then the light hasn’t come on.
But when that light does, when you see the truth of who you actually are, it leads you to the beauty, to the beauty of what God has done for you. Verses ten to sixteen here shows you that. God is speaking to a people that he has sent into exile because of their evil. But now he says though I struck you down in anger, now I will have mercy on you. Though you were forsaken and hated, now I will make you majestic forever, a joy from age to age. Then God says, then you will know that I the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the mighty one of Jacob.
If you had been an Israelite hearing that, that God would be your redeemer? You’d think. I can’t take that literally. That’s crazy. Why is it crazy? Because not just anyone could become a redeemer. In Israel, if you got so far in debt, that you could not hope to pay back your lenders, you had one hope. You needed a redeemer. But only a member of your family could become that. And that member had to take on everything, the entire debt. Only that would save you. Now do you see how weird it is for God to say that? An Israelite would think. God can’t be a member of my family, can’t become my blood, much less cover all my debt.
But now we know not only that God can, but God did. Jesus in John 5 lays it right out. He says. I am the Light of the World. I am the Glory of God dawning upon you. I am God come to be your kinsman, your blood. I am God come to redeem you. How did Jesus redeem us? How did he pay our debt?
Isaiah 60 shows us. Jesus was struck down in anger, so that we might find favor. Jesus was forsaken and hated so that we might become a joy from age to age. On that cross, darkness literally fell upon Jesus. The light of the world fell into darkness. What does that mean? If God is light, then the further you are from God, the darker things become. It’s a darkness that takes you away from the source of all life and beauty and truth. That’s the darkness that came over Jesus. He became cut off from God, totally and completely, utterly forsaken. Why? So that we would never be forsaken. He took on the darkness we deserve so that he might give us the light; that we might become the radiance of God. And when you grasp the beauty of that, the depth of that love for you. It changes you. It frees you. You live in confident humility. Why? You know how cherished you are. You give of yourself freely. Why? You see how freely God gave himself for you. That’s how it happens. You see the truth of who you are. You see the beauty of what he did. And in that truth and beauty, the life comes. And in that life, you become more than you ever dreamed that you could be. You become the light of the world.