Arise, shine, for your light has come.’ Isaiah 60:1
My friends, as we stand at the beginning of a New Year with our hopes and our fears I want to encourage you to have a strong and confident hope in Christ. It is time for us to hear again the words of Isaiah ‘Arise, shine for your light has come’ (Isaiah 60:1). In Jesus Christ, the light has come and this great truth gives substance to the hopes we hold as we stand at the threshold of a New Year. We have hopes for our children, our relationships, study and work and as we enter the 50th year since full independence, we also have hopes for our nation, especially that the General Election under a new constitution will mark a clean break with the troubled politics that have blighted the life of our nation and lead us forward to peace and prosperity.
As we read the newspapers we find some commentators are optimistic and some are pessimistic. Both views can find evidence to support their position, but I want today to say that we Christians should be neither optimists nor pessimists, but people with a strong hope in the promises of Scripture and the power of prayer. When the Bible speaks of hope, it is not just a wish, like saying ‘I hope there will be good crops this year’, but it is something definite and certain that will happen.
Optimists hope for the best, pessimists expect the worst, but we trust in the God who is able to strengthen us to do the best things even in the worst times. We are always hopeful because we know that there is a God in heaven who is working out his purposes in history despite, and even through, human sin and failure.
Our reading from Isaiah 60:1-7 is one of those great prophetic passages which foreshadow the climax of the bible story in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation. In wonderful poetic language we glimpse what it will be like when the victory of God over sin and evil, achieved in principle upon the cross of Christ, is fully revealed at the end of human history. Isaiah sees the people of God radiant with the glory of the Lord, thrilled and exultant as they are gathered to the restored Jerusalem from all the nations of the earth.
Some of you will be thinking that this is all very well, but it seems remote and doesn’t have much connection with the reality of our lives here and now. How do I make sense of Isaiah’s call to ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come’? The answer is that our future hope is already being realised. We will not see this glory and this light in its full splendour until Christ returns, but the light has already begun to shine out, just as we know that the first shafts of sunlight at dawn will lead to the full strength of the noon day sun.
The reality is that in Christ the light is already shining and the darkness, however thick, cannot ultimately resist it. This hope is a great strength to us now and can transform the way we think and live. So how can we live as people of hope and as agents of transformation in the year ahead?
Firstly, we are called to ‘Arise’. What does it mean to ‘Arise’? It means to be fully awake, shaking off drowsiness and the false world of dreams. As the Apostle Paul quotes to the Ephesians ‘Awake, O sleeper and arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you’ (5:14). We who are children of the East African Revival movement are familiar with the phrase ‘Walking in the light’. It means having personal and spiritual integrity by being transparent to God and to one another because we know that the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins.
Walking is a lifestyle, not just an experience, in which we commit ourselves to seeking the reality of God’s presence and love day by day. We do not conceal or pretend and we do not lead double lives. Imagine what a difference there would be in the life our nation if everyone who calls themselves a Christian lived in this way! In fact Isaiah does not simply say that we are in the light. He says that because we are in the light, we ourselves become light. We ourselves are to ‘Arise and shine’ and reflect the glory of the Lord by a lifestyle and behaviour that is true to our new identity as those who have been born again to a new and living hope in Christ.
Secondly, we cannot be people of light without coming into conflict with darkness. Isaiah speaks of the earth and its people as covered by a ‘thick darkness’ (v2). Light cannot compromise with darkness because light by its nature is the opposite of darkness. Where darkness would mask and conceal that which is evil, the light exposes, reveals and rebukes. This spiritual darkness is the natural state in which we live without the light of Christ and we should not be surprised that many people seem confused, indifferent or even hostile to the gospel and follow false religions. We need to be much more sensitized to this spiritual reality and our response must be to let the light of Christ shine brightly through both faithful preaching of the gospel and consistent Christian living in everyday life.
To take a practical example, in the 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International, Kenya is ranked 139 out of 176 and the same organisation has evidence which shows that the annual cost of what we call ‘petty’ bribery in Kenya is running at 33.6 million Ksh. We cannot expect our politics to be healthy if we as Christians are willing to tolerate a culture of petty corruption in everyday life which corrodes trust in those who are entrusted with authority. What a great step forward it would be if we could mark 2013, our fiftieth anniversary of full independence, but a significant step up the Transparency Index!
As we look forward to the General Elections on 4th March 2013, let us rise to the occasion by conducting our campaigning period with dignity and concerning ourselves with issues rather than the sentiments that inflame tribal clashes. These elections should be marked by respect for one another and a willingness to take responsibility for the outcome, with those who loose accepting defeat for the sake of the common good.
Thirdly, we need to remember that light not only exposes, but also reaches out. Twice in these verses Isaiah speaks of the ‘glory of the Lord’. In verse 1 he says ‘the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’ and in verse 2 ‘his glory will seen upon you’. Glory is attractive, it is magnetic, and the result is seen in verse 3 ‘And nations shall come to your light’. The glory of God will not be fully revealed until Christ returns, but it should be our hearts' desire that here and now we have a foretaste of that glory in the power of the Holy Spirit through transformed lives and heartfelt worship. The East African Revival added greatly to the churches’ numbers because people saw and experienced the glory of God as a personal and life transforming reality. Walking in the light is not to be confused with simply maintaining an inward piety, morality or traditional values.
It is dynamic Spirit filled faithfulness to Christ and his Word to which unbelievers are irresistibly drawn. In our modern context we need now to be thinking of mission beyond our borders. In the past we have been the recipients of missionary endeavour and we thank God for those who brought the gospel to this land, but now the sending nations of the West are in deep spiritual and moral crisis and it is time for us to take a lead in global mission.
The majority of Anglicans are now in the Global South and that means we need to take greater responsibility in global leadership. We cannot simply stand by as we see many of the Anglican Churches in the West, including the Church of England itself, being severely compromised by the deepening spiritual and moral darkness of the societies in which they are set.
The GAFCON movement is one way in which global Anglicans are responding to this need and I am very happy that in October this year, we are expecting the second Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON 2) to be held here in Nairobi and we look forward to welcoming Anglican leaders from around the globe. I believe this will be a strategic moment in the reshaping of the Anglican Communion to fulfil our vision for global mission and a time when we will experience a foretaste of that glorious gathering of the people of God which Isaiah prophesied.
So as a new year begins, I hope we are beginning to see more of what it means to align our lives with Isaiah’s great vision of the people of God as a global community, radiant with his glory. In recent decades we have rightly emphasised what we call the ‘holistic gospel’, aware that the good news must be expressed in deed as well as word, but we must never lose sight of the fact that to be truly holistic, there needs to be a seeking after the presence of the God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures at the heart and centre of our life as a church.
God is light and we can only arise and shine if he is present with us. Moses understood this truth when he pleaded with the Lord, despite Israel’s sinfulness ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here’(Exodus 33:15) As we prepare to move forward into a New Year, let that cry for God’s presence echo in our hearts too.
The Most Rev’d Dr Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop of Kenya and Bishop, All Saints Cathedral Diocese, Nairobi.
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