The Light Continues Shinning in the Darkness
Jan 22, 2023
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Matthew 4:12-23
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
On Christmas Day, nearly a month ago already, we celebrated the infant Jesus as the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it … or perhaps we should say, him. Today we hear about that light again, in the context of Jesus’ burgeoning ministry approximately 30 years after his birth. At this point he has been baptized by John, affirmed as God’s beloved one, who is filled with the Holy Spirit and commissioned for ministry. He also has been tempted by the power of evil in the wilderness, where he prevailed.
Now, the news comes to Jesus that John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod, so Jesus withdraws from Jerusalem, seeming to want to avoid potential backlash. He travels 80 miles north to Galilee, settling in an out of the way place called Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Giving up the spotlight in Jerusalem probably was not viewed by some as a strategic move, especially since attention was being focused on John and would naturally end up on Jesus, given their connection. It seems, though, that is why Jesus left; it was not yet time for the focus to be on him.
Still, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is the one, the light. There in Capernaum, the hillside region of Zebulun and Naphtali described by the Prophet Isaiah as the place where people have walked and lived in deep darkness, the light has dawned – his name is Jesus.
He repeats John’s message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He calls his first followers, Peter and Andrew, James and John. He proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom of God and cures disease and sickness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
I think those four fishermen must have seen that light in a unique way on the day Jesus called them. How often do we ask, when we read today’s passage, and others like it in the Gospels, “Why did they go?” “Why did they follow Jesus?” The Bible does not tell us, but Pastor Kenneth L. Gibble offers some possible reasons.
Perhaps the fishing had been really lousy that day; the nets kept coming up empty, the net-mending was particularly tedious or the heat and humidity were unbearable. Could it have been that James and John were desperate to get away from their father, Zebedee, who constantly belittled them? So, they jumped at the chance to leave. Maybe they were looking for a good excuse to stop being fishermen, viewing it as a dead-end job, and Jesus came along at the right time.
Had the four fishermen heard reports about Jesus, about his powerful preaching? Maybe they had heard him themselves and wanted to know and hear more. Could the strange expression, “I will make you fish for people,” have caught their attention? So, they wanted to find out what he meant. Was the presence of Jesus so compelling, the sound of his voice so commanding, that they were drawn to him like flecks of iron are drawn to a magnet?
Whatever the reason was that they left their boats, I’m guessing that they had no idea that doing so would mean a radical change in their lives. In fact, maybe they thought “follow me” simply meant a break for the day and tomorrow they would be back fishing again. (1)
But, it was not for a day, or even a week; somehow they saw the light, so to speak, and it was so compelling that they took the risk to follow, to be disciples. Then, as they followed Jesus from place to place, it kept shinning, putting the world and God’s presence in it in a new light. Or, perhaps what was put in a new light was how they saw themselves.
Jesus glimpsed something of value and worth in them, so he too risked that his light, shinning in the darkness, would not only draw them in, but energize them and illumine their way.
Do we grasp that their light is ours’ too? Each one of us is called, in different ways, by God. Our calls are rooted not in what we do, but in who we are. We’ve been talking about that in recent weeks; we are God’s loved and forgiven children; that is what defines us, that is what we are called to be. Jesus sees value and worth in us; God honors and loves us. Once we grasp that, the light will shine to reveal how we are to respond.
Perhaps the “doing” will come through our work – in schools, law firms, hospitals, restaurants; or through volunteering – with Loads of Faith, DLM, Refugee Resettlement or the Red Cross; or through relationships – with our families, neighbors, co-workers or strangers in the grocery store. However it is that God uses us, though, stresses Dr. David Lose, it is important to remember that before God calls us to do anything, God first calls us to be something: God’s own beloved children. If we know this, then we can trust that the rest will follow. (2)
The light will shine in the darkness directing our way, and the darkness will not overcome it. It is vital for us to know that is true as, grounded in who we are, we step out in a world where, as the Prophet Isaiah said, people live in deep darkness, and yet on them light shines.
Let me share with you a real-life story of light shinning in the darkness. At a recent Loads of Faith event in North Hill, one of our guests was a woman who was indigent, and was using the opportunity of free laundry service to wash everything she owned. Even though it was cold – this was either in November or December – she was wearing flip-flops, and she threw them in the washer with everything else. This caused a problem; she was then barefooted, which was not allowed in the laundromat, and the employee there told her she would have to leave. That would involve going out into the cold, slushy night without anything on her feet or anywhere to warm to go where she could wait.
So, one of our volunteers took off his shoes and gave them to her. He then went to his car sock-footed, so as not to break the laundromat rules. Now think about that for a moment. First of all, would you give away your shoes? I happen to like mine; I’m not sure that taking them off and handing them over to someone who needed them more would be so easy. Second, do you think she ever forgot that moment when he handed her a pair of good shoes, with kindness and generosity? I am sure that was a moment of light in the darkness that she will never forget. That may be an extreme example, but it’s a reminder that day in and day out we are called to be the ones who offer light to those living in deep darkness.
Do you remember the beautiful poem that was presented by Amanda Gorman at the inauguration in 2021? It was filled with light and darkness imagery. I want to close today by sharing the last few lines (3):
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. The sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we know it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we are brave enough to be it. AMEN