Finding Light in Darkness

Finding Light in Darkness

Third Sunday of Epiphany

Readings: Isaiah 9. 1-4; Psalm 27. 1-9; 1 Corinthians 1. 10-18; Matthew 4. 12-23 (view all)

Someone remarked to me this week that the days are beginning to become lighter again, as Spring draws nearer.

For me, this is definitely a relief! I’m not great at getting out of bed in the morning at the best of times — you can ask my wife, Amy — but there’s something about having to get up when it’s still dark which makes it even more difficult.

The long periods of darkness in winter certainly have an impact on us. Perhaps this is one reason why the language of darkness began to be used, so early on in human civilisation, to describe the manifestation of evil. And in more modern times, perhaps this is why we so often describe periods of emotional difficulty and turmoil, as ‘dark times’ in our lives.

In our readings this morning, we continue the Epiphany theme of light dawning in darkness, as Jesus is shown to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah, and calls his first disciples.

I wonder how Christ’s invitation for us to follow him today can help us to deal with the darkness in our own lives, and in the world around us?

When there is an area of our lives, or our relationships with others, where we feel stuck in darkness, it can be impossible to imagine a way out. It is as if we are trapped in a dark room, desperately searching for a door to escape through, or feeling around for light switch to flick. But after a while, the prospect of finding a way out can seem impossible.

By the time Jesus arrived in the region of Galilee in today’s gospel, those he walked amongst must have felt the same way. The long-passed prophecy of Isaiah in today’s Old Testament would have felt empty to them.  It was the promised light that never came. After centuries of forced migration, exile and occupation — their home a playground for foreign rulers to flex their muscles — even their ability to imagine another world, a better world, may well have been nullified.

It is in the context of this stubborn, persistent darkness that Jesus begins his ministry. And among hopeless people, a light begins to dawn. Slowly at first, then ever more quickly, as Jesus becomes more established and the crowds begin to gather to meet him.

Through his compassionate presence, his courageous teaching, and powerful acts of healing, light is dawning for those ‘sat in the… shadow of death’.

A new hope begins to establish itself amongst the people. And this new hope gains enough of a foothold that when four fishermen are invited to follow, they have caught just enough hope to drop their nets there and then to follow him.

For some of us here today, the darkness in our lives may seem as acute and severe as it felt for the long oppressed people of Israel. There may be a situation, or a build up of situations, which leaves us feeling just as stuck.

However, for others, the darkness of our world today may well feel much more passive. We enjoy the comforts of a modern life and the freedoms of a modern, Western world. We are not living in an ancient, oppressed, Middle-Eastern nation.

Perhaps the comfortable darkness of our time feels less like being locked in a dark cell, and much more like slowly being smothered in a warm blanket.

There is no reason to complain. We are nice and comfortable, and in a world of modern convenience there’s nothing we need go without. And yet, like a lobster in a pot where the water is slowly increasing in temperature, we begin to feel trapped in our own comfort.

We live wonderful self-sufficient lives full of individual choice, but for some reason, we are beginning to feel increasingly lonely. We have the ability to buy almost anything we could ever want, and yet one purchase just leads to another, and then another, with no lasting satisfaction.

And all the while, the possibility of another world, of transcendence and transformation, seems all the more implausible. As Paul expresses in our epistle, the possibility of God feels like increasing foolishness.

And yet, just as Jesus appears in the Palestinian equivalent of the back end of nowhere in Matthew’s gospel, so he is able to appear at the edges of our lives. And just as he began to minister to the oppressed people of Galilee, he ministers to us.

Christ ministers to us.

Through the sharing of a moment of true honesty with a friend. Through an act of service which is offered without being asked for. Through the uninhibited embrace of a partner, a child or grandchild. Whenever the protective, but ultimately restrictive, blanket around us is bypassed through love or compassion or truthfulness… Christ ministers to us.

And just as he called the first four fishermen, he calls us to follow him into a new way of life. A way of life which is service-shaped, ministry-shaped, cross-shaped.

Because, although to almost all it seems like foolishness, the way to life is through death. Light comes through the darkness. And the transformation of ourselves comes through the service of others.

I have Gareth Rainer-Williams, the School Priest at St Teilo’s, to thank for sharing a wonderful poem based on the calling of the fishermen. I’ll finish with this — it’s by Julie M Hulme:

And I will make you, he said
The fisher people 

I will go out among you
Nameless and wandering
Borrowing the boat of your life
To fling my love like a net
In a generous sweep over the water,
I embrace the sea of your suffering,
To draw in, hand over hand, the gentlest harvest 

And I will make you, He said,
The fisher people. 

You will say much in a few words
Feed thousands out of your poverty,
Hear the symphony of heaven in silence,
Sing in hard places.
Every day you will live beyond your resources
But never beyond my grace. 

And I will make you, he said
The fisher people. 

They will know you by your love;
Love like the wide curve of a weighted net
Thrown from the prow of a boat
On a swelling tide. 

And I will make you, he said
The fisher people. 

They will know you by your hands and feet,
As you know me.
Weary feet, laden with the dust of roads,
Torn by stones,
Scarred hands, drawing water for cleansing,
Offering compassion like a towel.
Hands that can bleed.
Feet that can dance.