Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany - 1/27

          I like living in an old mining town; I like the history of it.  It’s different from the colonial history that was part of the fabric of things back in New England, but it’s no less interesting and since the history doesn’t go back so far there are still people around who lived a lot of it, not all the way back to the 1840’s of course, but back to the days of underground mining, Cliffs Shaft, Mather A and B and others which really do represent a different time, a different era.

          I like listening to the stories of the guys who worked underground in part because while it sounds to me like an awfully hard way to earn a living, there is a nostalgia about it among those who did it, a sense of camaraderie and pride that is kind of fascinating.  Maybe they’ve forgotten a lot about how hard it was, I don’t know, but I’ve heard some of them say if they had it to do over, they would work underground again, without question.  After I’d lived here about a year Ron Mariani took me for a tour of the Empire and Tilden mines and I found that very interesting too, but I wonder if the same sense of nostalgia and camaraderie will exist among the people who work in the mines now when they tell stories years from now.

          One of the things that often comes up with the underground miners is the darkness.  People who worked underground know darkness because several hundred feet down there’s no ambient light of any kind.  Without the light you bring down with you, you literally can’t see the hand in front of your face.  That’s something most of us rarely if ever experience (and perhaps we’re glad about that) but these days it is hard to get away from light.  That’s not all bad, but I wonder if you don’t appreciate light more if you really know darkness.  I think again about the miners coming up after their shift and how welcome the light of day must have been. 

          There’s lots of places in the Bible where light is contrasted with darkness and in ancient times people would have been very familiar with darkness.  Before electricity, especially in more remote villages and settlements, it would have been dark at night except for whatever light the stars and the moon provided and that’s probably why there is a lot of light/dark imagery in the Bible.  Knowing darkness, the contrast with light would have provided a powerful message; the idea of a light shining in the darkness would have been vivid and welcome, a source of hope.

          We have some of that imagery in today’s lessons, during this season of Epiphany where the arrival of the light of Christ is one of the themes.  From Isaiah we have, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”  This verse is then quoted by Matthew in today’s gospel.  There is a historical context to the Isaiah passage although it’s a bit vague but you may know that as you read through parts of the Old Testament the kingdoms of Israel and Judah go through what sometimes seems to be an endless cycle of kings who do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, and then the occasional king who does what is right in the sight of the Lord.

          The context of today’s Isaiah passage seems to be about the arrival of one of the good ones, the light of new king, a king like King David contrasted with the previous king of darkness.  The writers of the New Testament as they tried to understand Jesus “according to scripture” picked up on passages like this seeing Jesus as the great light, the new David shining in the darkness.  Whichever interpretation you use, the light that shines is about God’s capacity for new life, new possibility, new hope even at the darkest of times because such newness is not dependent on what has happened before; it depends only on the will of God. 

          This light in the darkness is a source of wonder but it is also a source of unrestrained celebration and joy.  That’s the next verse of Isaiah’s poetry and especially as we consider these as Epiphany texts, it’s important to hear the joy in this announcement of light shining in the land of deep darkness.  It takes us back to the announcement of the angel to the shepherds on Christmas Eve, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” 

As we go through these weeks of Epiphany and again have the identity of Jesus revealed to us we ought not lose that joy of Christmas Eve.  While our relationship with Jesus can be complicated at times, in him we know joy and we know that whatever we experience, in Christ the possibility of joy is always there; the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  Maybe though, in order to see the light, like the underground miners we have to know the darkness but in a feel good society too often we think we have to pretend that everything is sweetness and light, even though it isn’t, even though darkness surrounds us at times.


It may be that this light shining in darkness imagery has lost some of its power and imagination for us living as we do in world that in a literal sense it seldom is dark and also because in an emotional sense we’re encouraged to deny the darkness; because of this, the contrast between light and dark isn’t so great, the light isn’t quite so bright.  But let me share a couple of light in the dark moments that have become two of the most meaningful times of the church year for me.

I think we could probably agree that Good Friday is the darkest day of the church year.  It really starts at the end of the Maundy Thursday service with the stripping of the altar, the removal of all the sacred objects and adornments from the church and then we leave in darkness or very dim light.  On Friday night we have a Tenebrae service and if you’ve been there you know that during the service candles are extinguished, the lights are dimmed and it gets darker and darker until finally at the end, the last remaining candle is removed and the church is a dark as we can make it. 

But we don’t leave that way.  At the very end of the service, that one candle is brought back in, all by itself, a single flame of light shining in the darkness.  The congregation leaves quietly and after everyone is gone I usually go up to the choir loft and spend a few moments alone in the quiet gazing at that one candle before I go down and put it out and go home.

The other time is the next night, during the all night part of the Easter Vigil.  During that time, those who come and keep watch sit in the library area in candle light with some icons, but all through the night, the new Christ Candle that was lit earlier in the evening burns in the darkness of the fellowship hall.  I often find myself looking over at that candle; again a single flame of light shining in the darkness.  As the sun rises, the darkness is dispelled and the light and joy of Easter morning surrounds us but still, that light that burned through the night keeps burning.  I’m someone who likes to read and study and get into the texts of the Bible, obviously writing sermons is a big part of what I do, yet two things that have deep significance for me as I go through the church year, have nothing to do with words, nothing to do with analysis and interpretation;  It’s just that light, shining in the darkness.

In a few minutes here, little Erica will be baptized.  As part of the rite of baptism a candle will be presented to her with Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will have the light of life.”  It’s a joyous occasion and today Erica will be surrounded by her parents and family and sponsors and the whole body of Christ gathered here today.  She’s not a light shining in the darkness, but sometime that may be what she is called to be, because that’s sometimes how a life of faith goes; in baptism we become the light of Christ shining in what can often be a dark world.  And like those miners that took the light with them into the underground darkness, Erica and each of us take the light that is Christ with us.

People who walk in darkness have seen a great light. 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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