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Sermon VII.
by John Keble
found in
Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany
ISA. lx. 1.
“Arise, shine.”

THE Prophet is here setting forth God’s act of new-creation, of which the first act of the old creation was a type and shadow. For as we read in Genesis, that, when He would make the world, the first thing He did was to say, " Let there be light, and there was light:” (Gen. i. 3.) so here we read in Isaiah that, when He would new-create the world, bringing back the order and beauty and innocency which had been at first, it was as if He had said, “Arise, shine.”

For God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1John i. 5.) The Presence of God is Light, His absence is darkness. No wonder that when He shewed Himself present in that new and wonderful way, in the flesh and soul of that little Babe, Who, as on this day, was born of the Virgin Mary and laid in the manger of Bethlehem as it had been a cradle—no wonder that Christ’s Birth should be compared to a light shining, as it is in various places of the service appointed by the Church for this day. E.g. in the 19th. Psalm, He is likened to the sun, which cometh forth as a Bridegroom out of His chamber: from the undefiled chamber of the Blessed Virgin’s womb, wherein had been solemnized the marvellous union or marriage of God’s Nature with man’s in His Divine Person. And in the first lesson for the morning: " The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isa. ix. 2.) In the second lesson: the Glory, i.e. the glorious Light, of the Lord, shone round about the shepherds. In the Epistle, Christ is “the Brightness of the Father’s glory.” In the Gospel, “The Life that was in Christ was the Light of men;” it “shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not: . . . that was the True Light which lighteth every man which cometh into the world . . . and we beheld His glory, the glory, as of the Only-Begotten of the Father Of the evening Psalms, the eighty ninth says, Blessed is the people that can rejoice in Thee,” (Ps. lxxxix. 16.) or as in the Bible version “that know the joyful sound” of Christmas; “they shall walk, 0 Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.” And again “His seat is like as the sun before Me.” (Ps. lxxxix. 35.) And in the hundred and thirty second Psalm I have ordained a Lamp for Mine Anointed.” (Ps. cxxxii. 18.) Thus we see how the notion of our Lord being the true Light, and His Birth, the Light dawning on earth, appears and reappears in the services for Christmas Day: and we know accordingly, when we look at a Christmas picture, how full it is of light: how the little Babe lying in the manger casts a glory all around Him, a Glory of His own; He Himself is the Fountain of it, and the Blessed Virgin Mary and S. Joseph and the other forms which are seen around Him, are seen only by that Light; without it, there would be nothing to see in them. 

But it is the nature of light to communicate itself, and make other things shine. Things which it falls upon, are apt, as you know, either to reflect it and give it back, as a fair looking-glass, or a sheet of snow, gives back the light of the sun shining on it; or else they are transparent and it passes quite through them, as through a drop of water or pane of glass in a window. So Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, has vouchsafed to communicate His Light. He arose and shone, that His Church might arise and shine: and not only His whole Church, but also each individual Christian. To the whole Church and to each one of us severally, it was in effect proclaimed from heaven on the first Birthday of our Lord, and it is proclaimed anew every Christmas Eve, “Arise, shine.” Let us see, how the words are spoken, and what Christmas thoughts we may, by God’s blessing, draw out of them to do us good.

The prophet Isaiah in the text is no doubt addressing the Church, the Bride of Christ, bidding her arise and shine; as she did first at Jerusalem, when the Holy Spirit descended upon her, kindling her all-over with the glory of Jesus Christ; as He saith Himself, “The glory which Thou gayest Me I have given them.” (S. John xvii. 22.) But we may also regard the words as spoken to each particular soul, as relating to that moment when we are made members of Christ, for then our “light doth indeed come, and the glory of the Lord ariseth upon” us: then it is said unto us, “Arise out of the water, in which you have been spiritually buried with Jesus Christ, and shine henceforth with the light of that glory and innocency, which the gracious Spirit has now given you, by making you partaker of Christ. Arise and shine: shine on, through all the years which shall come after, during which your soul shall be kept apart from the body: and when the last of those years shall come, and the sun himself shall no more shine with this outward and visible light, yet to thee, saith the Lord, ‘Shine on: arise from the dead, and shine on through all eternity.’” For this cause Baptism was of old time called “Illumination,” and is so called in the Epistle to the Hebrews . (Heb. vi. 4.)

How did we arise in Baptism? We were, by our natural condition, dead in sin. We “were brought very low,” lying buried in the mire and dirt of our own bad passions and habits. Of ourselves we could not arise; we were utterly helpless; as it is written, “ Without Me ye can do nothing.” (S. John xv. 5.) We were prostrate in a very low pit, “in a place of darkness and in the deep.” Then as he who would help another, lending him a hand, out of the dungeon, must needs stoop into it himself not minding the misery and noisome air of the place; so did the Most Holy and Merciful One stoop into our foul and dark prison, and effectually help us out, bearing, Himself, all the shame and misery of it; and at length arising out of it, took us up with Him or after Him into the free, bright and fragrant air of His pure heavenly kingdom.  We are risen with Christ;" Col. iii. 1.) the Truth has made us free; the yoke and burthen of our sins is broken from our off our neck; we have power and liberty, if we will, to lift up our heads and look after the things which are above: and not only to look after them, but to follow after them; to ascend after Him, with Whom we are risen; in heart and mind to ascend high above this world, and dwell with Him continually.

Thus, in Holy Baptism to every one of us, was the word graciously spoken, “Arise.” So also was the other word, “Shine.” In our first unregenerate condition we were in darkness, not at all seeing our way to heaven; very dimly and imperfectly seeing the difference between good and evil; “putting bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” But being made partakers of Jesus Christ, the true Light, we are permitted not only to see our way, but to drink-in the light ourselves, and fill and drench ourselves with it, as the moon is filled with the sun’s light, and to show it to others. We are like so many little candles lighted (if such a thing were possible) at the sun itself. And because we are both to arise and to shine, therefore it is said unto us, " Let your light shine before men.” (S. Matt. v. 16.) Having been raised up, we are in men’s sight: and being caused to shine, we are sure to be seen by them. It is not that we should seek to be praised by them, God forbid! but we are, without thinking of their judgement, to lead such lives, as may best encourage and help them to glorify God.

Since then we are, one and all, in the number of those to whom God has said, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come;” let us take care that we do shine; that we keep our souls, like a clear mirror, free from the mists and stains of earth, which would otherwise dim the glorious image of the Son of God, offering Himself to be reflected in them continually. When Angels look down on the regenerate soul, they expect to see it all bright and shining with a purity, something like their own; disregarding what might kindle evil desire, and turning themselves, night and day, towards God, with reverential love. They expect to see it also shining with cheerfulness; enlightened evermore with a holy and religious joy; a joy in God, like that of the Blessed Virgin Mother, when she knelt beside the manger, earnestly beholding and adoring her new-born Babe. Also we may well believe that the holy Angels, who waited near Bethlehem on the first Christmas Day, and were so ready and eager with their songs of praise, and in instructing the shepherds where they might find the Babe: we may well believe that those Angels expect to find in us, the new-born of Christ, a certain obedient and dutiful alacrity, a quick and bright way of going on from one thing to another, earnestly seeking out and fulfilling all His Will. And this may be part of the meaning of the Holy Spirit, when He says to each of us by the Prophet, “Arise, shine:” as who should ask, “Are you not a Christian? be not then slothful and languid: arouse yourself: be up and doing in your Lord’s service: and when you have done a little, some one or two things, do not stand gazing on it, but go on to the next thing; stir thyself up continually, by devout and thankful meditation, to do more and more for Christ; this is the way to arise and shine in good earnest.”  Do your work swiftly and clearly, but as silently as possible: after the manner of rays of light, which come from the sun in silence, with inconceivable speed, straight to the point where God intends them to fall. Such should our work be; no noise, no disturbance, no loitering about other and meaner things.

In this other respect too, the Christian should resemble the morning light, that he should arise and shine more and more. “The path of the just,” says the wise man, “is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” (Prov. iv. 18.)  The child’s goodness is as it were a little spark lighted in Baptism: holy and clear, but faint by reason of its smallness. As the child grows, into a man, God expects his goodness also to grow, and throw its beams wider and wider. Only it must be always remembered, that both for the first gift of grace, and for its growth afterwards, we are wholly and only God’s debtors; our light is altogether borrowed and reflected from His. As the Apostle asks, “Who made thee to differ from another? or what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. iv. 7.) Our goodness is all borrowed, all Christ’s; none of it is properly our own; and for this very cause it may and ought to go on perpetually increasing; as there is no end to the water which may be drawn out of a deep unfathomable well. “This also” saith S. Paul again, “I wish, even your perfection.” (2 Cor. xiii. 9.) i. e., he would have us go on to our lives’ end, learning and practising more and more goodness from Him Whose life was to be our example, as His Death was our atoning Sacrifice. Do you not see, when children are learning to write, how they are used to set their minds and eyes on their copy, and form something as near like it as they can? We expect and hope to see them from time to time coming nearer to that copy. But neither they nor we expect, that they should ever (in their time of learning) quite come up to it. So and much more in following Christ’s blessed example. A wise man will not labour at it the less, for knowing that it is far beyond him; that he never can hope to come up to it. That does not signify, either to his duty or to his reward; but it does signify very much that he should go through life improving; that so far from dying down and losing his baptismal brightness, which is the case, alas! too commonly, he should wax brighter and brighter as the years of his trial go on; purer, more joyful, more silently active in well-doing, at his Confirmation, than in times nearer his Baptism; shining again in all these respects with added light after his first Communion, and so on from each Communion afterwards. For such are “they that dwell in God’s House,” under His blessing, they will  “go on from strength to strength”. (Ps. lxxxiv. 7.)

Now, how is this to be? How are we to grow brighter and brighter, except by constantly renewing our approaches to the first fountain of our original brightness ; that is, to Jesus Christ? Even as those who would keep up and increase a fire, still keep on throwing on more and more of the same kind of fuel, or as good, as that with which it was at first made up. Now, since our Lord is departed far away, and we cannot be baptized again, so as to renew and increase our communion with Him in that way, we might be at a loss what to do, in order thus to make our lamps burn brighter, had He not graciously ordained another Sacrament, for a special help to us in this very respect. He hath left us the Holy offering and feast of His own Body and Blood, which shall ever be, to those who receive it worthily, as a pure and living light, entering into them; and causing them to shine all over with a growing and increasing brightness, seen of Angels, but not always seen of themselves; because it is a hidden work, the work of the Holy Ghost, as we read, They are changed into the same Image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. iii. 18.) For in the Sacrament, as in Him Who gave it, is Life, “and the Life is the Light of men.”

Whoever then would arise and shine, as all Christians are commanded to do, his way is plain. He must become a worthy communicant. And if he be one already, then in order to arise higher and shine more brightly, he must become a worthier one. There is no way of perfection, that I know of, without worthy Communion; and worthy Communion duly practised, is sufficient. “O taste and see,” (Ps. xxxiv. 8.) all you who have hitherto drawn back; and “taste and see” again, all you who have come already. Only take care that you come prepared: that you come reverently, in fear and trembling, in self-abasement and contrition of heart. The shepherds, had they not gone to Bethlehem on the bidding of the Angel, would have missed seeing what came to pass to-day. Had they gone irreverently, it had done them more harm than good. So if you would see your new-born Saviour, you must come to His Altar, for that is the true Bethlehem; but you must come worthily, else your light will be turned into darkness.