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Sermon for Epiphany 3 year A Matthew 4

January 19, 2014

lamp lighterThe people who walked in darkness have seen a great light – Words from our first reading

In the name…..

When Robert Lewis Stevenson was a child, streetlights were lit by hand b.y lamplighters walking through town at dusk. One evening as Robert’s Nanny prepared his room for bedtime, she saw him staring intently out the window. “What do you see, Robert?” she asked.

“I’m watching that man knock holes in the dark.”

The dark. Isaiah wrote about deep darkness in the land of Zebulun, Naphtali, the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, and Galilee. These all refer to a territory directly west of the Sea of Galilee. The land that the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III, conquered and deported its citizens to Assyria in 732 BCE. Gloom and darkness signify the devastation to the land and the people’s experience of military defeat. In these conditions, hunger and depopulation were ever present challenges. To a destitute people Isaiah announces a coming age when night will be transformed to day. Israel need not despair because the same people who walked in darkness will experience a great light.

Yet darkness continued to oppress Israel far beyond the activity of the king of Assyria. And it may continue to oppress us. We may long for better days ahead. We live under threat in a world that is beyond our control, a world that lies in the hands of some leaders who make stupid, selfish and cowardly decisions. There is a darkness in the world that we dare not deny, a darkness that comes because many do not believe that there is any other way in the world than brute force. And so they live in a world, even create a world, in which struggles for power and control are the norm. And bring the darkness, not only to themselves, but to everyone around them.

How should we live in such a world? Under the control of the forces around us, complaining about how bad everything is and hoping against hope that it may get better someday? Or do we live in the light of God’s revelation of himself in the world, and trust that he will work his purposes in history, even when we have no idea what those purposes might be or how he will work?

Do we succumb to the despair of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, or live as if the God we read about and talk about and sing about really is God? Do we cower in the darkness only dreaming of a better future? Or do we live as if the light of that future is as much a reality as the darkness around us?

This passage in Isaiah calls us, not to passive acceptance of the present realities around us but to embrace the God of new possibilities, who can bring light into the darkness, peace into warfare, bring security into instability, freedom from oppression and slavery.

In our gospel reading, Matthew tells us that Jesus left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. The same place to which Isaiah spoke. He begins his entire ministry by quoting Isaiah. His first sermon is on this text: “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.

‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Repent. Turn round. See from a different vantage point. fter all, Jesus is repeating these same words from Isaiah a good 800 years after him. As if to say “Hey, come on people, it’s finally time to open your eyes and see the light.”

We are called to live in the light of the reality of the coming of Jesus. There is no denying that not all of the darkness has been dispelled by his coming. Will we choose to walk in the light that he has brought or continue to sit in the darkness?  Will we live as his people for the future that he is working to completion, and which we have a part in shaping. Or will we simply sit in the darkness longing for something better?

With Jesus, the new day of salvation has dawned and the kingdom is here. So even if the nights are long and the days are short, know that in the appearance of Christ the day has come. Live according to the timetable of God. Live in the light.

Those who Jesus originally called to live in the light had none of the usual qualifications or leadership training, and some of them let him down. Yet, within a few years they would be turning upside down the mightiest empire ever seen by the world at that time. The effect of the church—for good and for bad—has been incalculable, and it all began with those few people being brought together.

Capernaum was on the border of the Decapolis, a large Roman area just east of Palestine.  While Nazareth was secluded, remote and insulated from the outside world, Capernaum was cosmopolitan and bustling, in the thick of things.  People from other lands and from every walk of life poured through it every day on their way north and south. Then, as now, news travels fast along the super highways.  Whatever Jesus said and did in Capernaum was quick to be heard far and near.

Something else: The synagogue in Capernaum followed the teachings of Rabbi Hillel.  In Nazareth, they followed the teachings of Rabbi Shammai.  The difference was like night and day.  Rabbi Shammai was ultra-orthodox and conservative.  Rabbi Hillel was progressive and liberal, by comparison. So those called to live in the light are to live in the thick of things and to be forward-looking

Light doesn’t always dispel the darkness. But it does dispel the fear of darkness. In the same way, God’s presence doesn’t always change the circumstances of oppression or injustice that create fear. But God’s presence does lift the fear itself and remind us that whatever we may have to suffer in this life is not the ultimate truth of our lives. Fear can limit our mental horizons. It can make us miss the reality of God’s presence, the good news that God’s light is always there to lift our burdens and dispel our fear, that God loves us no matter what may happen and nothing can separate us from that love

Will we live as his people for the future that he is working to completion, and which we have a part in shaping.

God calls us, like those first disciples, to do what the lamplighter did, to knock holes in the dark.

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