Light Has Dawned
Imagine you’re sitting on a hill in the dark right before dawn, and then you see the sun rise over the horizon. Imagine that feeling, as the new day begins, and you begin to see the sky take on color, and the details of the landscape around you.
That is something of the feeling here.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,Isaiah 60:1 (NRSVUE)
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
Isaiah’s book has two parts: the first 39 chapters are called the Book of Condemnation, where Isaiah listed all the sins of Israel and the surrounding nations, and God’s coming judgment. Chapters 40-66 comprise the Book of Consolation, which begins in chapter 40 with the phrase: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”
Here Isaiah extolls
- God’s greatness, God the Father in comparison to idols,
- God’s grace, God the Son, the four servant songs,
- and now God’s glory – God the Holy Spirit and the coming kingdom.
What begins in God’s grace will always end in God’s glory.
Now, in these next seven chapters Isaiah will use the word “glory” in one form or another at least twenty-three times.
Darkness Before the Dawn
Before God’s glory is revealed, Isaiah says here
“For darkness shall cover the earthIsaiah 60:2 (NRSVUE)
and thick darkness the peoples,
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.”
Throughout Scripture, darkness represents the presence and power of all that is against God and God’s people, of terror, chaos, lawlessness, and evil. Within that darkness is another presence as well, the presence of God’s wrath, God’s judgment, for the presence of God’s glory is now turned away.
The imagery that Isaiah uses here recalls the beginning of creation, the first words of the first book in the Bible,
“When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
“Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
“And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.”Genesis 1:1-4 (NRSVUE, emphases added)
It was not until the fourth day that God established the sun and moon as lights in the sky; they are created things, not celestial objects of worship, not powerful markers of destiny, simply lights in the sky that do God’s bidding. That is important to keep in mind for the last verses of this chapter.
Descent of God’s Glory
Originally humankind was able to enjoy God’s presence with them in the Garden. But in their rejection of God and God’s ways, the first man and first woman brought darkness back to earth, and their intimate fellowship with God was broken. The rest of Scripture describes God bringing the beauty of God’s light back into the world, God’s presence to live among God’s people as it was in the Garden of Eden.
God set the stage for how the Lord would restore all creation when God told the first patriarch, Abraham
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”Genesis 12:2-3 (NRSVUE)
When God developed the Hebrew people into the nation of Israel, the Lord entered their lives through Moses as the light from a burning bush. Remember the darkness that settled for three days over Egypt as God’s judgment in the ninth plague. Then God’s glory appeared as the pillar of fire and cloud that kept the Hebrew people safe from Pharaoh’s army and led Israel through the desert. When the tabernacle was built, God’s glory descended in brilliant light to signify the Lord’s presence dwelling among the people.
For a time, early in Israel’s history, God removed God’s light during King Saul’s reign because Saul had wrongfully decided to have the Ark of the Covenant paraded before his army and marched into war as a talisman, or good luck charm, to insure victory. Instead, King Saul brought dismal defeat, and the Ark was lost to the Philistines.
“The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”1 Samuel 4:22 (NRSVUE)
When Solomon built the temple, God’s glory filled the Holy of Holies, and indeed the entire edifice with glorious light, only to remove it again when the people repudiated the Lord and worshipped other gods, even in the temple of God. In a vision of grief and horror, Ezekiel stared mute and round-eyed as the glory of the Lord departed.
“The glory of the Lord rose up from the cherub to the entryway of the temple; the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the glory of the Lord.
“… Then the glory of the Lord went out from the entryway of the temple …”Ezekiel 10:4, 18 (NRSVUE, italics added)
Finally, the Gospel of John records that God’s glory came to Israel in the person of Jesus, but the religious rulers of Israel largely rejected God’s light and through the agency of the Roman Empire nailed God the Son’s glory to the cross.
Three hours of darkness settled over the land as the Lord Jesus died.
Daybreak Has Come
Since the day of Pentecost, those two thousand years ago, when the Lord sent God’s Spirit as tongues of flame to the believers gathered together in Jerusalem, God’s glory has been dwelling in the church, the living body of Christ, together as one and also in each individual believer.
So now, Isaiah proclaims,
“Nations shall come to your lightIsaiah 60:3 (NRSVUE)
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
In a spiritual sense, not just Jewish people, but every kind of people from all over the world are drawn to the gospel, receive God into their hearts and lives, and radiate the beauty of God’s glory. Isaiah may also have had in mind a literal meaning to his prophecy, that God would literally dwell in Jerusalem one day as the Lord had done in the days of the Judges and during King Solomon’s reign.
God’s people reflect God’s light
What does that look like? Just some examples that come to mind:
- The person who faces a hardship with confidence that God is going to get them through it, that God is going to bring some good out of it.
- The person who humbly does what God asks of them, and trusts that the results are in God’s hands.
- The person who shares what God has given them, freely, with those around them.
- The person who offers comfort, encouragement, words of wisdom, prayer, kindness and patience, even in the middle of a busy day, because they have noticed someone in need.
As you and I study God’s word and pray, asking God for insight, and the ability to apply God’s words to our lives, that process transforms us inside, and as we apply what we learn we are changed from glory into glory.
Paul talked about the glory that would fade away from Moses’ face after he had spent time with the Lord. But for those who have God’s Spirit within, not only does God’s glory not fade, it grows more brilliant. It is the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit Who transforms a person from the inside out. Paul wrote,
“We have such a hope, we act with complete frankness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.
“… but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (NRSVUE)