6 January 2011

Isaiah 60:1-6

"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." (v. 1)


In making sense of the meaning of the coming of Jesus as the light of the world, light for all, this is one of the Old Testament passages that stood out for the early Christians. It's clearly a good news passage for people who have been living in darkness (probably, in its original context, the darkness of exile in a foreign land). It's a passage that says when the light comes things will be very different, the world will be changed. 

Down the centuries, Christians have seen the link between this passage from Isaiah and the story of Jesus' birth as told in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 1:18 - 2:18). Matthew talks of the coming of wise men, but in some carols they have become 'kings' (eg "We three kings of orient are", "Three kings from Persian lands afar"). How do wise men become kings? Well, here in Isaiah the talk is of nations coming "to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn" (verse 3). 

Verse 6 talks of gifts being brought - gold and frankincense. This helps make sense of the rather strange presents for a baby listed in Matthew's story of Jesus' birth (Matthew 2:11).So both Matthew's Gospel and many later Christians see the birth of Jesus in the light of this prophecy of hope from many centuries before Jesus' birth. 

These verses speak clearly of the light being for all, as people come from far and wide in response to it. This is not just about a God of one people but of all peoples - light for all. And this is right at the heart of the celebration of this day, Epiphany (6 January) in the Christian calendar, the manifestation of Christ as light for all the world. 

To Ponder

This is a 'good news' passage for people living in darkness of various kinds. How would you describe the good news of Christianity in ways that make sense today?

To what extent is light a helpful image for you, as you think and talk about God's love in Jesus?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Gamble

David Gamble is a Methodist minister currently serving as conference officer for Legal and Constitutional Practice and was president of the Methodist Conference 2009/2010. He is married to Liz and they have three adult children.