THE GUIDING LIGHT[1]

ISAIAH 60:1-3

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

DECEMBER 28, 2014

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            The Guinness Book of World Records lists the American soap opera Guiding Light, known as The Guiding Light before 1975, as the longest-running American television drama in history, broadcast from 1952 until 2009.  Previously it had been on the radio for fifteen years before making its way to television.  I was never much of a soap opera fan, but my Aunt Irene was.  As a little boy I remember going over to her house, which she kept at a balmy 80 degrees, and her being engrossed in the trials and tribulations of the Bauers, a lower-middle class German immigrant family.  To my aunts chagrin, on April 1, 2009, CBS announced that it would not renew the show and so, after 57 years on television Guiding Light ended its broadcast history on CBS.

            Thats a long run, but let me share with you and even longer run of the guiding light.  Im referring to Isaiahs words in our passage for today. Our Sunday School class just finished studying Isaiah, and as part of our study we stumbled on these words Isaiah 60:1-3.  

 

            Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  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.      Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 

 

            Isaiah spoke a lot about light.  In the ninth chapter he utters the iconic line, The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,and in the 42nd chapter we hear Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God say, I will turn the darkness before them into light.  Here in Isaiah 60, roughly 550 years prior to the birth of Jesus, he foresees that birth and says, Arise, shine; for your light has come.  So this guiding lighthas had a run for at least 2000 years.  The television show had a good run.  This guiding lighthas had a phenomenal run.

            Arise, shine.  What a great thought for the new year.  Dont shrink back from the coming year.  Dont hide in the shadows. Arise. Shine, and as we consider this directive to Arise; shine! I want us to notice three things.

            First, I want us to notice how these words call to us on a personal level.  Traditionally the time between Christmas Day and New Years Day is the time for making new year resolutions.  Its estimated that 40% of us make new years resolutions.  Maybe some of you have worked on some for the coming year.  Do you have any idea what are the most popular resolutions?  They are lose weight, exercise more, get out of debt, and quit smoking.

            Speaking of new year resolutions, I heard about one poor fellow who decided to make only resolutions this year he could keep. He resolved to gain weight, to stop exercising, to read less and watch more TV, to procrastinate more, to quit giving money and time to charity, to not date any member of the Kardashian family.       

            If you make resolutions, I hope you put Arise and Shine!on your list of things to do.  Attitude goes a long way, in fact what we think about the new years usually has a bigger impact on our year than making a resolution.  So, what kind of attitude are we taking into the new year?  For the most part, how we approach this coming year will determine what kind of year it will be. Do we approach it boldly, confidently, expectantly? Or do we approach it with fear and apprehension?

            Hopefully we will make a personal commitment to arise” … to get going in the new year and to shine” … to make a difference in the new year.                      

            These words from Isaiah speak to us, first of all, on a personal level. Second, they they also speak to us on a spiritual level.

            The reason we can arise and shine is because Christ has entered our lives and even though things can get dark at times, this great light shines in the darkness. We are coming close to the next season in church calendar, the season of Epiphany.  It will start on January 6th.   Many churches will celebrate this as the day when the wise men followed the star that came to rest over the house where the young child lay. It reminds us of the light Christ brought into the world. Christ has given us power over sin and death. Christ tells us who we are: children of God. He gives us meaning, purpose and direction.

            Sixteen years ago the Associated Press carried a disturbing story about Graham Stuart Staines. Staines had been a Christian missionary in India for many years. He ran a clinic for lepers and often preached at a nearby church in Baripada, India, but on January 23, 1999, Graham Staines and his family paid an awful price for their faith. Over 40 Hindu activists surrounded the Staines' Jeep and set it on fire, killing Graham and his two young sons, Philip and Timothy. This was only one tragic incident in a series of increasing anti-Christian violence by Hindu radicals.

            At the funeral for Staines and his sons, which was attended by more than 1,000 people, Staines' widow, Gladys, and his daughter, Esther, spoke of forgiveness and peace and they bravely stood over his coffin and sang a hymn of hope: "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives." Even in the face of this personal darkness, they knew they could go on because Christ lives.

            You and I will probably not face such a horrifying episode in the coming year, let alone in our entire lives, but we will face our own trying situations. If we will let our faith overwhelm our fears, we, too, shall sing, "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives."

            Isaiahs words also speak to us on a social level. We are to arise and shine so that the world may know its Savior has come. The Gospels testify that Jesus is the light that has come into the world, but Christ taught that we, too, are to be the light of the world. As kids many of us sang, This little light of mine, Im going to let it shine.

            Many years ago, a young woman named Maggie began attending the Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago. She was a hurting young woman who had been abused and deceived by inauthentic Christians when she was a child. She had stopped trusting that God existed or that Jesus loved her, but she wanted to believe. Not long after she first started attending Willow Creek, this young woman wrote a letter to Pastor Lee Strobel and included a poem she had written. Here are a few excerpts of that poem:

 

            Do you know, do you understand, that you represent, Jesus to me?

            If you care, I think maybe He cares and then there's this flame of hope that burns inside of me and for a while.

            I am afraid to breathe because it might go out.

            Do you know, do you understand that your words are His words?

            Your face, His face to someone like me?

            Please, be who you say you are.

            Please, God, don't let this be another trick.

            Please let this be real. Please.

            Do you know do you understand that you represent Jesus to me?" [2]

 

            Here is why we are to arise and shine. The world needs to see in us the truth of what we believe. Words are cheap. Too many people are trying to sell us that which they do not possess themselves. "Do you know," asks Maggie in her poem, "do you understand that you represent Jesus to me?"

            So this is our call for the new year. Arise, Shine. And when we do shine not only as individuals but also as the family of Christ then the world will be a brighter, more inviting place.

            In 1992 California educator Dr. Norvel Young took his family to the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. It was exciting for them to see the best athletes from the nations of the world compete in gymnastics, diving, water polo, and track and field. Most of all, Dr. Young was thrilled to see the love and goodwill exhibited between outstanding representatives of the many nations. It's a small world after all, says Dr. Young, and the Olympics are an example of goodwill and hard work.

            As they entered the stadium for the closing ceremonies, Dr. Young and his family were given a packet of items, including a flashlight. After a thrilling program, including all the lights were extinguished. A hush moved over the vast audience; then a shout of "Ah!" The entire stadium was lighted as thousands of spectators turned on their individual flashlights. From darkness to light not because one person flipped a switch on some giant stadium floodlights, but because each member of the audience did their part by turning on their tiny, individual lights. It was a poignant and powerful moment, one Dr. Young says he will never forget.

            H is also a big Neil Diamond fan, and Dr. Young compares it to Neil Diamond concerts he has attended, when Diamond begins to sing in his gravelly voice, "Turn on your heart lights." And one by one, people in the audience turn on different kinds of small lights whatever they have with them flashlights, cell phones, matches, lighters. By the end of the song, the darkness in the auditorium has been dispelled, and light is glowing warmly everywhere.[3]

            And that is our purpose in the new year.



[1] Second half of message adapted from King Duncan’s message “A Guiding Light for the New Year.” 

[2]Lee Strobel, God’s Outrageous Claims (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), pp.70-72.

[3] Mary Hollingsworth, Living Lights Shining Stars: Ten Secrets to Becoming the Light of the World (Howard Publishing Company, 1997).