Sermon audio here.
Isaiah begins his sermon today with the command, “Arise, shine.” Now normally we’d hear something like, “arise, shine” in the morning, whether it’s the soothing voice of a mother or the incessant buzzing of the alarm clock. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been a morning person. I’ll rise, but I’m not shining.
But that’s not the sort of “arise, shine” this is. God didn’t send the prophets to be glorified alarm clocks. They issued wake-up calls all right, but they had nothing to do with getting out of bed. The people were in a deep spiritual slumber.
You might say they were sleepwalking through life, and we don’t function well when we’re drowsy. According to an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine, driving drowsy is just as dangerous as driving drunk.
That’s why God sent the prophets like Isaiah. The people were in a deep spiritual slumber. They had become intoxicated with the things of this world. When not enjoyed rightly, the things we love the most are also the deadliest.
As dangerous as it is to drive drowsy or drunk, it’s even more dangerous to put yourself in the driver’s seat of your life. But this isn’t about making God your co-pilot or letting Jesus take the wheel. When it comes to your faith, you’re about as lucid as those who sleep beneath six feet of dirt. Dead people can’t ask Jesus to take the wheel. And even if you only were the co-pilot, you’d still find a way to drive the car into oncoming traffic.
Christ alone can prevent this from happening. Communion with Him is the most basic need of humanity. Our Lord says it Himself: Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. That means you need to eat God’s Word. That’s exactly what happens whenever you receive the Bread of Life, whether it’s physically, in the Sacrament, or aurally, in preaching and God’s Word.
The people of Isaiah’s day forgot about that. Probably not on purpose, but they got busy and other things became more important. And so they drifted off into a deep spiritual slumber.
And it got bad. To say the people were in a deep spiritual slumber doesn’t really do it justice. What they were in was more like a spiritual coma. The Israelites, exiled from the Promised Land, finally found themselves at rock bottom, broken by the weight of their own sin.
Now they were no longer slumbering, they were mourning in sackcloth and ashes. The people had done evil in the sight of the Lord. They provoked Him to anger and He gave them over to their sin.
But when they got what they wanted, it only made matters worse. So Isaiah goes to these people in their catatonic state and preaches the sweetest message of Gospel comfort: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”
Now you might be skeptical about this, and you have every right to be. After all, if you walk into a hospital and tell someone in a coma to “Arise, shine,” the only thing that’ll get you is strange looks from the medical staff and maybe a trip to the funny farm.
But God’s Word has power that your words lack. When Christ tells the dead guy sit up and walk out of his coffin, he does. When He tells the clouds to open or the winds to cease, they obey. When He calls forth light out of darkness, it comes.
He can shine the Light of His Gospel even on pagan sorcerers like the magi, men who barely made it to Bethlehem and almost got Jesus killed by making Herod think He was guilty of treason.
God’s Word has the power to call forth repentance and faith, even in a corpse like yours. Like the 7th century Israelites, you’ve found yourself in a spiritual coma. It’s not just that you give in to temptation sometimes. Doing the exact opposite of what God wants is the greatest delight of your sinful flesh. It will not relent until it has you on your knees, bowing before the father below. Even St. Paul said, “I am of the flesh, sold under sin.”
You’re no more able to wake yourself out of the spiritual coma that you’re in than you are to resist the sin that put you there in the first place.
Going through life in a spiritual slumber is absolutely the most dangerous thing you could ever do. The consequences endure well beyond the grave. Without God’s Word, the darkness would overwhelm you immediately and you wouldn’t even have a fighting chance.
But in Christ, you have more than just a fighting chance. Jesus lives, the victory’s won. The darkness did its best. It even got the sun’s light to fail for a few hours while the Lord of Life hung dying on the cross. But it didn’t stay dark, and Christ didn’t stay dead.
Christ descended into hell and declared victory over Satan. He rose from the grave to bring with Him those who have fallen asleep, even you.
This is why there’s nothing more important consuming God’s Word. When you eat the Bread of Life, the Holy Spirit is active so that you might resist sin and awaken from your spiritual slumber. Think of Word and Sacrament like a double shot of spiritual espresso, but without the Starbucks prices. Christ gives it to you for free. He paid for it with His blood.
But the Holy Spirit works only through the Word, whether you bathe in it, eat it, or hear it preached. The Holy Spirit doesn’t offer you guidance by the stars or give you warnings in dreams, like He did for the magi. In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets and in dreams in visions. But in these last days, He has spoken in that which is more sure and certain—Holy Scripture—to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.
You don’t get the Holy Spirit at Starbucks (or Dunkin’ Donuts, for that matter), even if drinking their coffee is a religious experience for you. Their drinks might wake you up in the morning, but the only place you’ll ever find the Holy Spirit is in preaching and the Sacraments.
These are the only means by which the Holy Spirit rouses you from your spiritual slumber, calling you to repentance and faith.
And not you only. Christ has awoken you and brought you into the Light of His Word for the life of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. And then nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Soli Deo Gloria