Tag: sundar singh

Sermon: Your Light Has Come

This is the sermon I’m preaching on Epiphany Sunday, January 4, 2009, from Isaiah 60:1-6.  

Your Light Has Come

Isaiah 60: 1-6

1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, 

       and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

 2 See, darkness covers the earth 
       and thick darkness is over the peoples, 
       but the LORD rises upon you 
       and his glory appears over you.

 3 Nations will come to your light, 
       and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

 4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: 
       All assemble and come to you; 
       your sons come from afar, 
       and your daughters are carried on the arm.

 5 Then you will look and be radiant, 
       your heart will throb and swell with joy; 
       the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, 
       to you the riches of the nations will come.

 6 Herds of camels will cover your land, 
       young camels of Midian and Ephah. 
       And all from
Sheba will come, 
       bearing gold and incense 
       and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.

Epiphany Sunday is here

Well, here we are at Epiphany Sunday.  You’ll notice that all the Christmas decorations are gone today – the Chrismon tree, the candles, the advent wreath, the greenery that represents life even in winter.  And if you are like we are, you have already packed away the trappings of Christmas at your house, including the nativity scenes and the Wisemen.

But, if we were a really observant liturgical church, we would recognize this Sunday as the visit of the Magi to the Christchild.  Or, if we were Eastern Orthodox, we would celebrate this Sunday as the Baptism of the Lord Sunday.  We’ll do that later, but today is Epiphany Sunday, which means “appearing.”  Now, it wasn’t that the babe born in a stable hadn’t already appeared, but now it has become apparent who he is.  The Magi – the wisemen – schooled in ancient celestial arts have recognized the star of portent.  A star in the heavens with great significance has heralded the appearance of a new king. 

But, Isaiah over 600 years before speaks of another light.  A light that will shine on all, a light that will bring the nations into its brilliance, a light that will be reflected in the lives of those who see it and understand it.  And as they come to this light, Isaiah says, they will bear gifts of “gold and incense” – a prophecy fulfilled in the gifts of the wisemen.

A Look Back at the Light

But, how are we to understand what Isaiah is saying?  Isaiah, of course, is writing to a people who need encouragement.  The people of God have been defeated, disbursed, taken captive, and are in great difficulty.  To them the prophecy of God comes through Isaiah –

Arise, shine, your light has come!

And, as if to explain what this light is, Isaiah says –

and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 

In other words, this is God’s light!  God’s light, not just better days.  Not just happier times, but God’s light shining on God’s people, again. 

So, what about this light?  This light is the same light God spoke into existence at creation: 

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.  – Genesis 1:1-3

Into the unformed mass that was heaven and earth, God speaks light.  Not shape, not character, but light.  “Of course,” you’re thinking, “that’s when God created the sun.”

Wrong.  The sun, called the greater light, and the moon, the lesser light, don’t get created until the fourth “day.” 

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.  – Genesis 1:14-19

The sun and moon and stars were the physical luminaries, but the light God speaks into existence in Genesis 1: 3 is God’s light.  God’s light that banishes darkness from a chaotic world.  God’s light that sets the tone for all that is to follow – God’s approval that every day of creation is a “good day.”  God’s light that comes into the world, and by its entering the world changes everything.

Now, if all this sounds very mystical and mysterious, it is.  We get the part about the sun and stars, and we know the moon reflects the light of the sun.  But, spiritual light, the light that is the glory of God, we’re puzzled by.  Well, let’s keep looking at God’s light some more.

Light Along the Way

The next time we encounter God’s light is when the people of God are trying to escape the captivity of Pharaoh of Egypt.  Remember the plaques God has Moses pronounce on the land of Egypt?  One of those plagues is the Plague of Darkness.  But, an amazing thing happens; in the homes of the Israelites, they have light –

21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. 23No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.  – Exodus 10:21-23

Pretty amazing, huh?  Of course, there are lots of folks who might say, “Well, they just lit their lamps.”  And, of course that could be it.  But, the Egyptians also had lamps.  The point the writer is making here is that the presence of God illuminated their homes even amid the darkness of Egypt’s sin.  Sounds very theological doesn’t it?  Which of course, it is. 

God also commands that the symbols of his presence among his people – the lighted candlesticks in the tabernacle and temple – be continually lit, for God is always present with his people. 

We don’t have time to review every instance of light in the Old Testament, but here’s one more.  The psalmist recognizes the continuing presence of God even in difficult times as he writes –

 Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” 
       Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD. – Ps 4:6

Which brings us again to Isaiah’s prophecy that God’s light is coming, indeed has come to his people.  And, Isaiah tells them they are to be reflectors of that light just as the moon reflects the light of the sun –

Arise, shine, your light has come!  

They can shine because their light has come.  Isaiah had previously talked about a people who walked in darkness seeing a great light.  Now that light has come, and 600 years later, wisemen perhaps riding camels, will bring gifts of gold and incense – frankincense – to this newborn king. 

The light of the star in the east became a beacon to those who sought this newborn King.  And, while the wisemen do not divulge their own theology, they bring the Christchild gifts and worship him.  All because they have seen the light of God in a star.

The Light of the World

It is no wonder then, that when we come to the story of the birth of Jesus, it is attended by light.  Shepherds are dazzled by the light of God, reassured by angels, and then they find the child who has appeared in their midst.

Wisemen see the star, follow it, and recognize the significance of the light of the star heralding a newborn King.

John writes of the appearing of the Light as he mimicks the Genesis account of creation –

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.  – John 1:1-5

Jesus will teach his followers that they are reflections of this light of God themselves –

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.            –Matt 5:14-16

Why does Jesus jump right into this in the Sermon on the Mount?  Here’s why:

·        Until the first century, Jews would have understood the light of the world to be found in the temple.

·        A giant menorah stood above the temple compound, all nine branches lit to the glory of God, while inside the temple the sacred candlesticks burned with the light of God’s presence.

But now, Jesus tells his followers they are the light of the world.  Not the temple menorah.  Not the sacred candlesticks.  They are, because they reflect the glory of God in their midst.  That glory is now personal, not symbolic.  That glory is not contained in a person, not a place.  That glory is now Jesus – the light that came into the world. 

On the Mount of Transfiguration, we see the glory of God in Christ.  Some theologians have speculated that Christ’s presence is always radiant as it was on the mountain top.  But, in deference to the limited ability of mankind to stand in the glory of God, Christ cloaked his radiant glory with his human body.  Peter, James, and John – as had Moses and Elijah who were present with Christ that day – got a glimpse of the light of God in their midst. 

The Light of God Looking Ahead

But, our interest in the light of God doesn’t stop with the appearing of Jesus, as significant as that is.  We get another glimpse, this one also from John.  As John was given a glimpse into eternity by Jesus himself in the vision we know as the book of Revelation, here’s how John sees the new heaven and the new earth –

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

And so the new heaven and new earth appear.  Brand new, just as they had been at creation.  But, now something else appears.  The new Jerusalem.  The new Jerusalem is the throne room of heaven descending to the earth.  It is God with his people again, in their midst.  Just as he had been in the tabernacle and temple.  God with us.  Immanuel.  Comforting, healing, restoring, loving.  After describing the indescribable beauty of the new Jerusalem, John goes on –

22I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Not only is there no more crying, or pain, or death, there is no night either.  The light of God, spoken onto earth at creation, now illumines the new Jerusalem.  Nations will walk by its light – meaning recognize the presence of God.  Kings will bring their splendor to this new city where God is the light.  All of that, just as the prophets had spoken. 

I introduced you to Sundar Singh last week.  Sundar Singh was a Hindu who saw a vision of Christ when he was 14, became a Christian, and then at age 16, set out in the garb of a Hindu holy man to tell his people about his new Master.

Sundar Singh was not only a great evangelist, he was also a mystic.  A mystic is simply someone who sees beyond this world into the world to come.  For Sundar, his visions came during times of extended prayer.  Listen to his vision of heaven –

“In heaven, no one can ever be a hypocrite, for all can see the lives of others as they are. The all-revealing light which flows out from the Christ in Glory makes the wicked in their remorse try to hide themselves, but it fills the righteous with the utmost joy to be in the Father’s kingdom of Light. There, their goodness is evident to all, it ever increases more and more, for nothing is present that can hinder their growth, and everything that can sustain them is there to help them. The degrees of goodness reached by the soul of a righteous man is known by the brightness that radiates from his whole appearance; for character and nature show themselves in the form of various glowing rainbow-like colors of great glory. In heaven, there is no jealousy. All are glad to see the spiritual elevation and glory of others, and, without any motive of self seeking, try, at all times, truly to serve one another. All the innumerable gifts and blessings of heaven are for the common use of all. No one out of selfishness ever thinks of keeping anything for himself, and there is enough of everything for all. God, who is Love, is seen in the person of Jesus sitting on the throne in the highest heaven. From Him, who is the “Sun of Righteousness,” and the “Light of the World,” healing and life-giving rays and waves of light and love are seen flowing out through every saint and angel, and bringing to whatever they touch vitalizing and vivifying power. There is in heaven neither east or west, nor north nor south, but for each individual soul or angel, Christ’s throne appears as the center of all things.” Visions of Sadhu Sundar Singh of India, pg 26.

The light of God, introduced at creation, present with his people, and incarnated in his Son, is the true light that comes into the world.  Arise, shine, your light has come!

Sermon: The Privilege of Seeing The Future

The Privilege of Seeing the Future

December 28, 2008 – First Sunday of Christmastide 

Luke 2:22-40

22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

 25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 
 29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, 
      you now dismiss your servant in peace. 
 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 
    31which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 
 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles 
      and for glory to your people

 33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

 36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

 39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Predicting the Future


Here we are at the end of another year.  The news media has begun their standard “Best of 2008” articles and features.  We have reviewed the best electronic gadgets of 2008 – cell phones kind of led the way there.  We have also been treated to the most admired people of 2008 – Barack Obama won that contest going away, it seems. And, before the year is over, we’ll see more of the “Best of….” and “Worst of…” lists for 2008. 


Following close on the heels of the stories that look back at 2008, are those that look ahead to 2009.  Writers and producers are already picking the trends that will “change your life” is 2009.  Of course, cell phones are at the top of that list, too, so maybe 2009 is not going to be al that different from 2008.  We have a new administration that takes office in January, and pundits are already speculating on either the “success” or “failure” of the Obama administration before it even begins.  I saw a CNN article the other day asking if “America’s honeymoon” with Barack Obama was over.  And, he’s not even president yet! 


I’m old enough to remember the 1950s.  Now that was a decade that could predict the future.  We were told that the kitchens of tomorrow would do all the work of food preparation automatically.  And, while some devices like the microwave have speeded up the popping of popcorn, not too much has changed in the kitchen as far as I can tell. 


But the big promise of the 1950s was that by the next century we would all be riding in flying cars.  Remember those?  “Highways in the sky” I remember one article calling them.  Well, no flying cars. 


But, then some of the things that seemed amusing, but useless did come about.  Like Dick Tracy’s wrist radio.  Okay, not exactly, but cell phones (there they are again) are pretty close.  I actually saw a wrist-mounted cell phone with camera (remember Dick Tracy’s 2-way wrist radio got upgraded to a TV?), and the article remarked that Dick Tracy would have been proud.


Some other things have happened that no one foresaw.  Like the ability to communicate instantly around the world for free.  The internet has changed lots of things, giving us a portal into worlds we would never have visited, or been able to access before.


And, no mention of predicting the future would be complete without reference to my favorite psychic, Jean Dixon.  Remember Jean Dixon?  1960s psychic, whose track record was spotty at best.  Yet on every late December National Inquirer, there she was offering up her 10 predictions for the coming year.  And, right or wrong, she would be back the next year for another shot at getting it right.


Seeing The Future


But, our story today is not about predicting the future as much as it is about seeing the future.  In Luke’s second chapter we find two of my favorite characters in the story of Jesus’ birth – Simeon and Anna.  Both Simeon and Anna are somewhat mysterious figures.  Luke gives us only a sketch about each one:


n      Simeon, a devout righteous man who lives in Jerusalem.  The Spirit of God is upon him, and moved by the Spirit Simeon goes to the Temple and encounters Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.

n      Anna, described as a prophetess and widow.  Anna, whose husband died perhaps 60-years ago, and who has stayed in the Temple courts since that time. 


Two very old and odd characters, but they give us a glimpse into the future because God has let them see it. 


Simeon is quoted directly by Luke: 


29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, 
      you now dismiss your servant in peace. 
 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 
    31which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 
 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles 
      and for glory to your people


And, then turning to Mary, Simeon says:


“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”


What’s in the pronouncements of this old man?  On the surface, Simeon seems like every other devout Jewish elder – he prays for the “consolation of Israel” which is a phrase understood in the first century to mean the coming of the Messiah of God, the Christ.  That was the prayer daily of devout Jews, particularly under the oppressive weight of the Roman occupation.


But there is more to Simeon than just an oft-repeated prayer.  Simeon has been told by the Holy Spirit that he will not die until he sees the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah.  And, the Holy Spirit moves Simeon to go to the Temple that day, at that hour, for the most important moment of his life.


Mary and Joseph have come to the Temple to follow the ritual purification law, and to redeem Jesus as their firstborn son.  The redemption of the firstborn is first seen in Exodus 13, as Moses prepares the Israelites for the exodus from Egypt.  Moses tells them that in future they are to redeem their firstborn son, by offering a sacrifice to God, and then they are to explain to the son why they are observing this ritual.  Of course, Jesus is too young to comprehend what is happening, but as Mary and Joseph prepare to “redeem” their firstborn, Simeon sees the baby and takes him in his arms.


Can you imagine Mary’s concern?  When your children were small, did you ever have someone pick them up, or try to take them from you?  Well-intended as people are, those actions make mothers, and fathers, very nervous. 


But somehow, Simeon’s face showed his faith, and his kindness calmed their fears.  But then Simeon says very strange things indeed – quoting from the prophet Isaiah, talking about how this child will be a light for the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.  That, after all, was how the prophet referred to the Messiah! 


But then Simeon turns to Mary.  Now the future is not so grandiose, it becomes much more personal.  Jesus, Simeon says, will cause the rise and fall of many.  He will be a sign that will be spoken against.  And, a sword will pierce your heart, too, he says to Mary.  Her heart, too?  Will Jesus side be pierced?  And so the shadow of the cross falls across this firstborn male child, this son of God, this babe who is God incarnate. 


Before Mary and Joseph can recover from Simeon’s words, or fully understand them, Anna, an old prophetess appears.  Called Anna in Luke’s gospel, she has the same name as Hannah, the mother of Samuel.  Hannah means “the Lord was gracious.”  Anna runs around telling all who will listen that this child will bring about the redemption of Jerusalem, meaning the entire nation.


The Future of God Involves His People


Can you imagine what Mary and Joseph must have felt?  A strange sense of pride because two old devout Jews, a man and a woman, have told of wondrous things that will involve their son, their Jesus. 


Not too many years before she died, my mother told me the story of a woman who came to our home when my dad was a seminary student at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  I was about 3 or 4 at the time.  As the woman was leaving, she turned to my mother and looking at me she said, “That boy is going to be a preacher.” 


Now that might not have been such a hard guess to make.  After all, there we were at Southwestern Seminary where my father was preparing for ministry.  “Like father, like son” is an old saying for a reason.  But, still my mother cherished that moment, telling me about only much later in life after I had indeed become a preacher. 


There is something we want to believe when others tell us our children are talented, or capable, or destined for big things.  Even if we only half-way believe it, or don’t put much stock in it, we still like to hear it said about our own children.


And, so Mary and Joseph that day must have gone home with a glow inside their hearts. 


That would all quickly be replaced by their flight to Egypt to escape the terror of Herod who was killing all the boy babies.  And so Mary must have thought about the second part of Simeon’s prophecy, that Jesus would be a sign spoken against, and a sword would pierce Mary’s heart, too. 


But still, there it was, a glimpse of the future.  A promise that Jesus would play a role in God’s salvation story, the redemption of Israel.  And, just maybe the Gentiles, too, although I am sure Mary and Joseph had little comprehension of what that might mean.  For the Jews were no missionary people.  They were not sharing their position in God’s future with anyone.  If they had a future, for that looked very dark at the time of Jesus’ birth. 


Seeing The Future Again


Looking back on the words of Simeon and Anna, we can see that they did come true.  Simeon and Anna did know what they were talking about, their prophecying was really from God.  Jesus, we now know, would cause the fall and rise of many, would be a sign spoken against, would attract opposition, suffer, and die. 


But, just as Simeon and Anna also said, Jesus would be a light for the Gentiles and for the glory of God’s people.  He would be the consolation of Israel, he would redeem Jerusalem spiritually. 


And what of today?  Can we see the future of God today as Simeon and Anna did?  Some can still see that future.  One such person was Sundar Singh. 


Sundar Singh was born into a wealthy and religious family in India in 1889.  As he grew, his mother especially was concerned for Sundar’s spiritual growth and enlightenment.  She not only sent Sundar to study with Christian missionaries, she also had a Hindu holyman, a sadhu, come to their home to instruct young Sundar. 


But, at the age of 14, after his mother’s death, Sundar Singh was an angry young man.  So angry that one day he brought a Bible home, called all the neighbors around, and one by one burned its pages in the fire.  His father was outraged at the disrespect showed for the Christian religion, even though he himself was not a Christian. 


That night, as a reproved Sundar lay down to sleep, he prayed that God would reveal himself to him, or if not, Sundar was prepared to take his own life by lying down on the train tracks near his home. 


In the night, Sundar Singh recounted, a strange glow came into his room.  Sundar searched for the source of the light, but all was still an dark outside his room.  As the light grew brighter, Sundar saw a figure in the light, a figure that in his words seemed “strange yet familiar.” 


Then, a voice spoke to him in Urdu, his tribal language – “Sundar, how long will you mock me?  I have come to save you because you prayed to find the way of truth.  Why then don’t you accept it?” 


Sundar said that it was then that he saw the marks of blood on the hands and feet of this person whom he knew to be Jesus.  He said at that moment he was filled with deep sorrow and remorse for his conduct, but also with a wonderful peace.  And though the vision was gone, the peace and joy remained.


A Different Future


Sundar was soon baptized by the local missionaries.  Renounced by his father for accepting the Christian faith, 33 days after his baptism Sundar set out on foot, wearing the robes of a “sadhu” – a Hindu holy man who traveled on foot, and depended on the kindness of others for his food and shelter.


Although Hindu sadhus never bathed – a sign of a true holy man – Sundar did.  And as he walked from village to village, he talked to his people in the language they understood about the Master he followed.


Word spread of the “apostle with the bleeding feet” as he was called.  Walking barefoot across rocky terrain inflicted cuts on Sundar’s feet, yet still he carried the message of Christ. 


Speaking to his people in India, and then in Tibet and other countries, Sundar Singh used common words, illustrations from everyday life, and stories familiar to those cultures to tell them of the God who created the world and sent his son to save his people. 


Sundar Singh was heralded as a great and original evangelist.  He spoke in Europe, England, and around the world.  His biography was written and rewritten, and he was called the greatest evangelist India had ever known. 


God is still in the business of showing people the future. But God shows us the future, not just for our own benefit, but for the blessing of the world.  Like Simeon, our prayer should be to see the Lord’s redemption. Like Anna, our witness should be of Jesus who is the redeemer of all creation.  Like Sundar Singh, our prayer should be a search for the truth so that we may live our lives into the future that God has prepared for his creation.