People waking in darkness have seen a great light
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
Isaiah 9:1-4, 1Matthew 4:12-23
Isaiah says, “The people waking in darkness have seen a great light.” It is because of this light that they, the people, rejoice. The darkness Isaiah refers to is most likely the fall of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrian empire. Later, many people reading this passage would probably reflect on their captivity or their ancestor’s captivity by the Babylonians. As we have seen throughout history, Empires come and go. In some cases, the feeling of being in the light or darkness really depends on which side of history you are on. If you are on the winning side, the times you live in seem to be times of light. If you are on the losing side you are in the dark. The difference between light and dark can also be geographic. No matter what we think of our politics, life in America when compared to many places in the world really isn’t too bad. I would think that most of us feel like we are living in the light in contrast to the Syrian refugees. Regardless of how we feel about this crisis, the people that are fleeing their homeland, and risking their lives to find safety, must feel that they are in dark times.
Jesus retreats through the land that was a divine gift to the Jewish people. Land named after Jacob’s Sons, Zebulun and Naphtali. These holy lands are now under the rule of Rome, a foreign government; and locally controlled by Herod. In this passage we see an inserted text, also from Isaiah, contrasting the light and darkness. This time, however, Matthew is showing us that Christ is the light that sines in the darkness of this same inherited, yet Roman occupied, land.
Today’s Gospel was written about 50 years after the fall of the Temple. The Temple was the center of Jewish society. With its fall, the Jewish religion, the Jewish culture, had to begin to identify a new way of being. Matthew is telling us that Christ is the light. He is the hope that we have in these dark times. Because of Christ, our times are not as dark as they appear. These are texts of hope. They are for anyone who feels that they are struggling in darkness; for those who need to see that hopeful dreams can become reality. Even in darkness we have to keep going, trying to make life better. Sometimes, when you feel you are surrounded by darkness you can only continue on by taking one day, one moment, or one small step at a time.
Many people seem to be concerned about our new president. Whether they voted for him or not, no matter what sides of the aisle they tend to land, I have noticed that there seems to be unease. Few will deny that President Trump is a bit of a wild card. He is stirring things up. This along with some of his rhetoric has put many people on edge. If you believe that we are in the beginnings of dark times then we can hold up this passage, knowing that Christ is always with us. Knowing that where Christ is there is no darkness. If you are on the other side, and believe that we are just coming out of the darkness, into the dawn of new and better times, we can only look toward the Light and give thanks to God for this blessing.
Some of you may be saying “Fr. Steve, you are talking out of both sides of your mouth.” I will not disagree; but I believe that we have no idea, at this point, if our nation is going toward the darkness or toward the light. Speaking in eschatological terms, in the end times, it really doesn’t matter because we have hope for our ultimate future and we always have Christ with us.
There is a Taoist story that I heard recently that I think illustrates my point very well.
There was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.
“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
The farmer simply replied, “We’ll see,”
The next day the horse returned, bringing with it several other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed, as they congratulated him on his good fortune.
“We’ll see,” replied the old man.
A few days later, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses. He was thrown, and broke his leg badly. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“We’ll see,” answered the farmer.
Several weeks later, military officials came to the village to conscript young, able men to fight in a war. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors again came over to congratulate the old man on how well things had turned out.
The farmer said, “We’ll see.
The tale points out that we do not know the future, we do not know if the bad things are good or if the seemingly good things are really bad. Our perception is not the reality.
Christ is the light. He is the light in the darkness. He is our light in the dawn and even when the sun is going down. We are called to focus on the light not the dark; for it is God’s Kingdom that is at hand. When Christ became human he brought the kingdom close to us. He spread the borders of the kingdom so that, by His activity, the kingdom is now amongst us.
In our Gospel, Matthew is also trying to show us the unmistakable presence of Christ. Look at Jesus’ interactions with the two sets of brother. We find that this light of Christ is instantaneous. Jesus saw two brothers casting a net into the sea. He said to them, “Follow me. Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Likewise he saw James and John with their father Zebedee in a boat. Again he called to them, and immediately they left the boat; leaving their father in the lurch. Imagine being the father of the two boys. A stranger calls over and without a word, they stop what they are doing, get up, and walk away to follow him.
Light is either on or off. We don’t often think of it this way. We think of light as a range from bright to dark. We have dimmers on our lights at home in which we can make the light brighter or darker. Even our cars have low and high beams. But even if a light is dimly lit it is still on; there is still light. It is quite difficult for us to find total darkness anymore. There is light pollution which keeps us from seeing the stars. Even in very remote areas there are the stars or the moon offering us light. I have even personally seen my own shadow from such light.
Nowadays our homes are not like the days before electricity. Houses had relatively small windows and when the fireplace died down and the candle was put out the only light might be from the moon coming in the window. Today our homes are full of light. Microwaves display the time; so do many devices; from our cellphones, to power-strips or even our computers, have little lights shining red, green, or blue. Even without those gadgets the smoke detector on the ceiling usually blinks every few minutes and light from the street generally creeps in.
We could build a room with no windows, no electricity, and a tight fitting door in the most remote place on earth, and there would still be light in it. The light of Christ would shine, for we cannot escape his presence. Ever since he entered our world, we cannot escape from his light. We can pretend it doesn’t exist, we can try to ignore it, but the light of Christ is always with us. And all we have to do is look toward his light and we will find it. In this light there is darkness no more. When we feel the darkness creeping in around us, we should not run in fear. We should find the Light, we should focus on Christ, so that we instantly recognize his presence among us.