Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Light in the Darkness

This is my chapel homily from yesterday morning. I am preaching from the gospel text for the day, Matthew 4:12-17.

Opening verse (for prayer):
“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:5-6).

We are all too familiar with darkness. We don’t even need to look beyond ourselves, our families or our friends before we find troubling evidence of sin. Life hurts. We’re broken people--all of us--in need of a savior. We’re part of a world in need of someone who can fix the problems that are too numerous or too--problematic--for us to take care of ourselves. This morning I want to talk about the light amidst this darkness. The guidance, the warmth, the color and life-giving energy which can only be found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the God who became a man in order to fix the things that can’t be fixed.

In our passage from Matthew this morning, we read about Jesus, who has just been claimed by Father God as his Son and been put to the test by Satan in the wilderness. After the devil’s departure, it says that Jesus traveled to Galilee “so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, 

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’”

The text here tells us something important. The world Jesus lived in was just like ours: it was messed up. In fact, most of us here today would probably have to move to a different country--or at least a different neighborhood--in order to grasp the particular and repugnant ways in which first century Palestine was not a great place to live.

Galilee in particular was especially inessential to the “powers” of that day, sort of a backwater to the already backwater Roman colony of Israel. Think of Luke’s terse introduction of John the Baptist’s ministry--this man was in power here, and another here and another there, and the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. It was the “region and shadow of death”, far removed from so-called civilization as well as the felt board sanitized imaginations of Sunday school.

Moreover, we know that the nation of Israel herself had been suffering the darkness of pagan rule for centuries. And she had been suffering the consequences of her own rebellion even longer than that. As God’s chosen people, Israel demonstrated what it looks like for human beings to be called by God: even when we know the right thing to do, we screw it up over and over again. The history of Israel is kind of like human history, condensed and put in direct relation to God in order to make the point that even with a comprehensive list of all the right things to do humans are still terrible at getting it right. Like the psalmist says, “No one does the right thing.”

These historical particulars make a connecting point for us. If we can see the world Jesus came to as deeply troubled, we can see the deeply troubled world we live in as a theater of operations for Jesus. The fact that we find ourselves in darkness does not undermine the witness of the biblical text, but rather grabs our attention and draws us to seek out the light that can be found there. The fact that we see our unbelief in the pagans underscores the relevance of Christ to us. The fact that we see our resistance to God’s righteousness in the Jews underscores the relevance of Christ to us. Like the people of Galilee, we’re walking about in darkness, sometimes even unaware that we’re looking for the light.

Jesus, as God incarnate, could walk out into the wilderness like Israel and there remain faithful to Father God unlike Israel. He was the Word--that personage in the God of Israel prone to reveal and communicate the transcendent God to his finite creation. And he was the Word become flesh, God made human so that not only could the truth be spoken to creation, but that creation itself might be changed, might be redeemed and reflect the beauty and truth of God once more. Just as Israel demonstrated humanity’s incapacity for change, Jesus the God-man demonstrated a humanity infused with the power of salvation--a light in the darkness. Jesus, in and of himself, was the announcement that humanity would not forever be bound by sin and chaos, that all powers political and spiritual were undone and being undone by him, the true king.

Like a porchlight attracting moths, Jesus proceeded to go about Galilee proclaiming the same message as John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” For those of us living in darkness, the introduction of light to our environment hurts our eyes at first, pushes us away, and we find that we’re actually more comfortable in the dark. We’ve become accustomed to slavery--as C.S. Lewis said, we’re like children playing in the mud who don’t understand what’s being offered when we’re invited to go on holiday at the sea. The Light in our midst shows us for who we really are, and, though it pains us, we must own our failures and dysfunctions and walk toward the light anyway.

I say then, to myself and everyone here, “Repent!” Look at the light. Look to the God-man Jesus Christ, the one who shows us that human beings can now once for all be empowered to fulfill the special calling of God. The longer we cling to our business-as-usual, crappy way of life the more we hurt ourselves and we hurt others. Let us embrace the risen Lord Jesus and walk in his light, full of the grace and love that dispel sin and bring peace and blessing. Save us, God! Deliver us from darkness and let the light of Christ shine in our hearts! Amen.