Fifth in a Series of Seven “O Antiphons”
Malachi 3:16 – 4:3, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Luke1:67-79
O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this Advent season, we are fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ, the very author and finisher of our faith. We have worshiped Him as Wisdom from on high and pleaded with Him to come again and teach us the way of prudence. We have worshiped Him as Adonai, as Lord of lords and cried out for Him to come again redeem us with an outstretched arm. We have worshiped Him as the Root of Jesse, before Whom we are speechless and asked Him to come again and to come quickly to deliver us. This past Wednesday evening we worshiped Him as the Key of David who remits the sins of the penitent and retains the sins of the impenitent, and we begged Him to come again and rescued prisoners yet sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. This weekend we hone in on Jesus as Dayspring from on high, as the splendor of light everlasting, and we petition Him to come again to enlighten those sitting in that same darkness.
(Sunny spring days on the farm) The readings for today are those appointed for December 21, the shortest day of the year, the day of Winter Solstice. On the day of deepest darkness, we would recognize Jesus Christ as God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. Back on the North Dakota farm where I grew up, winters seemed long, cold, windy, snowy, and dark. They seemed that way because they were long, cold, windy, snowy, and dark. My dad raised white faced Hereford cattle, and the cows would give birth in March and into April. More than occasionally, the calves would be born in the midst of a spring snowstorm, and mother cows and calves would end up in our little red barn for days and even a couple of weeks if the calves needed special attention. When the first sunny days of spring did arrive, the calves and mother cows would be released, and they were a sight to behold. They ran, and they kicked, and they leaped as if this was the best day ever! The prophet Malachi pictures the people of God who are understanding and appreciating that Christ has set them free as calves leaping from their stalls on a sunny spring day. In our sermon today, we invite you to consider the great and epic battle between darkness and light. Lesson #1 is to recognize how life is when darkness has its way, and Lesson #2 is to rejoice in how life is when the Dayspring from on high enlightens.
Three truths we want to recognize about how life is when darkness has its way. First, when darkness has its way, the cold barnyards have no frolicking. We Midwestern types know well the signs of winter. Trees lose their leaves, lawns go brown, storm doors and windows appear, fuel assistance requests skyrocket, and years ago at least, vehicles refuse to start. In the devotional book from Lutheran Indian Ministries, one author writes from Alaska that they are seeing less and less daylight every day; that they lose about seven minutes a day until there are 22 hours of night. Now that’s what you call darkness. Precious little frolicking, to be sure.
When the spiritual forces of darkness have their way, the nations have no peace. In Malachi’s day, the nation of Judah had gone so far astray that God was threatening to leave them and take the Gentiles as His people. Their priests were teaching false doctrine and leading many astray. Their men were divorcing their Israelite wives and marrying foreigners. Instead of honoring God with their tithes and free will offering, they were making Him weary with left-overs and blemished animal sacrifices. Malachi asked no fewer than 22 rhetorical questions in 55 verses to call this nation to repentance and to fix their eyes on the sun of righteousness who would be rising with healing in its wings for those who would fear the Name of the Triune God.
In our day, apart from Jesus Christ, the nations still don’t have peace. From sea to shining sea, there are wars and rumors of war. Christians are at odds with Muslims, Muslims are at odds with the Jews, gun control advocates are at war with the NRA, Democrats are against the Republicans and the establishment republicans are against the anti-establishment republicans, pro-abortion supporters are against the pro-lifers, traditional values folks are at odds with the not so traditional value folks, the baby boomers have their differences with the millennials and the elderly are asking the same questions they asked 50 years ago, “what’s the matter with young people these days?” The most basic of differences is till darkness vs. light. Unbelief vs. faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Sinful nature vs. new life in Christ. Culture vs. church. Bad angels vs. good angels. And still it is true what Jesus said to Nicodemus that “a great light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” When darkness has its way, first of all there is no frolicking in the barnyards, and secondly there is no peace in the nations.
And third, the minds of unbelievers have no good (eyesight). Paul said it this way to the Corinthians …the gospel is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Dear friends in Christ, we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood in these end times, we’re wrestling against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. And so we cry out again and again for Jesus Christ to come into our hearts and souls and minds in the preaching of His Word, in the teaching of His Word, in the remembering of His Word. For the Holy Spirit to keep on calling us by the Gospel and gathering us into the assembly and enlightening us with His gifts and sanctifying us with His truth!
O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Zechariah sang it this way, that as often as the sunrise shall visit us from on high, He gives light to those who are sitting in darkness and guides our feet into the way of peace. Three truths we learn about with the light of this world has His way.
First, When the Dayspring from on high enlightens, Christians have a hard time containing their (joy). As often as the Word of God is a lamp unto our feet, we are no longer like little white faced Hereford calves cooped up, penned up in foul air and packed down manure, we let loose with a running and a leaping and a frolicking kind of joy obvious to all. As often as the Word of God is a light unto our path, no longer do we sit in our corners swallowed up in darkness, paralyzed by the politicians, terrified by the terrorists, worried about what is to come, and yearning for the good old days which we think have passed us by. Now that the Dayspring has arisen, we can get up and walk, we walk about in freedom, we move forward on the pathway to peace. As often as we taste in our Lord’s Supper that our God is good, as often as we make the sign of the cross and remember that we are the baptized and believing people of God, as often as we get refreshed with the forgiveness of our sins, as often as we bring an offering and come into the house of our God, that often we want to shout it from the mountaintops that a Savior is born, that often we desire to direct those with whom we disagree to Joseph and Mary and their baby lying in a manger, that often we find it easy to forgive those who have harmed us, that often we just feel like singing like we’ve never sung before!
Secondly, As often as the Dayspring from on high visits us, nations get called to (repentance) In Malachi’s words, the day was coming when unbelievers will get what they have coming. The day was coming when the Lord of hosts will judge the living and the dead, the day was coming when all the arrogant would be burning as in an oven and evildoers would be stubble. In John the Baptist’s day, the message was the same. Repent, or you will die. Or to say it with a more positive spin, repent, and you will live. No matter what our culture says this December is about, the Church in fact knows what it is about. Advent is about throwing ourselves on the mercy of God, that the forgiveness of sins might sweep over our souls, as the sunrise sweeps over the horizon. It’s about Jesus Christ coming near, that we might be safe. It’s about this church and churches across the globe being little cities of light, set on a hill announcing judgment on the same old sins that keep on ruining our lives and Good News to sinners of all stripes and sizes.
Whenever the Light of the world has His way, new days keep (dawning). It’s as if we are living in the pre-dawn. It’s still dark outside, but we can see the first glow of the new day peeking over the horizon. We know that very soon the full light of day will be here. Christ, our day spring gives us hope. When you know the long dark night is about to end, you begin to get excited about the dawning of a new and more glorious day. There’s already enough light shining to give us light, to give us sight, so we can see where we’re going. Right now our eyes are getting adjusted to walking in the light. We’ve been sitting in the darkness long enough, this morning brings with it mercies that are new, and tomorrow will be the same.
The kingdom of God is like a large congregation of believers in a small town who can see clearly now. They agree with Johnny Nash, who sang it years ago, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright bright bright sunshin’ day.” Their days will be bright and sunny not because their lives are any easier or smoother than those who are living apart from their Savior, but because the God who said in the first place, “Let light shine out of darkness” has in the second place found a way to shine in their hearts in a regular sort of a way. They still have dark corners in their lives, but as often as they pray to be enlightened, they are. As often as they cry out for mercy, mercy is theirs. As often as they ask for their Father in heaven to hold their hand, He does. As often as they seek the face of Jesus Christ, they find it. And as often as they look for the light at the end of their tunnels, they can’t miss it, there it is. Amen.
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