The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 49 may be the nation itself, a remnant of the nation, or, as Christians would come to see it, a foreshadowing of the coming Christ. However interpreted, there is a sense that God will gather an exiled and persecuted people and through that people — the restored Jewish nation — shine out in blessing upon all nations. God speaks, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). Inevitably, “a light to the nations” and “my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” are taken up in Christian imagination, discourse, and creed.
The appointed collect for this day connects “Light” to Jesus, scripture and sacraments; and the illumination of disciples and their radiance through Christ upon the world. “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world; Grant that your people, illuminated by your Word and sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth” (Collect, 2 Epiphany).
The prologue of John’s gospel, which, no doubt, informs this collect, gives striking emphasis to light. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it . . . The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9). Additionally, we hear in the same gospel, “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). There are other references to “light” in the writing of St. John, but, to round out our picture, St. Matthew’s famous passage should be recalled, “You are the light of the world . . . let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good worlds and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14,16).
The call not “to walk in darkness” and the summons to do “good works” suggest a moral overtone. The light of Christ will change lives. This point, although important, may often be overstated. Transformation into Christ is both happening by grace and impeded by sin, which is why, though sad to admit, Christians often do not look that much different from other people. We have virtues, but of a rather ordinary kind, and often exercised only as convenient. We have faults too numerous to ponder, though we must ponder them in repentance. Still, we must struggle and endure to the end, seek to live godly, righteous, and sober lives. But we are not the light. We have the Light of Christ by adoption and grace, but we carry also the knowledge and effects of sin and death.
Has anything changed, then? The Light of Christ is with us and in us, and thus everything has changed, though under the aspect of hope. It is not yet complete. We are called, as St. Paul says, “to await the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 1:7-8).
In the hours before daylight, I wait. He will come — the One who is brighter than the Sun, all light and day, illuminating the inner chambers of the heart (Latin Hymn for Lauds).
Look It Up: Read Psalm 40:11.
Think About It: In a way that is natural to you, go about your work in the shining light of Christ.