January 22, 2023
Isaiah 9:1-4 Psalm 27:1, 5-13 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 Matthew 4:12-23
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined,” Isaiah writes. The psalmist writes:
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?
5 One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
6 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.
In Matthew, Jesus quotes from our Isaiah reading, again emphasizing the power of light – the light of love and peace that he offers. At the Easter Vigil, as I enter the procession into our church I will chant, “The Light of Christ,” to which you will respond, “Thanks be to God.” Light signifies truth and hope as well as Jesus.
After quoting Isaiah, Jesus then says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” In one of my bibles, an annotation of this verse says, “In asserting that God’s kingdom has come near Jesus meant that all God’s past dealings with his creation were coming to climax and fruition. Jesus taught both the present reality of God’s rule and its future realization.” Saying that God’s kingdom has come near, seems like an awkward way of saying what this scholar suggests – that Jesus is speaking of the reality of God’s presence here and now AND of the future when God’s kingdom will be on earth as it is heaven. Yet we do know translations of the scriptures can be tricky. Not only are we translating words from one language to another, we are translating from one time period to another. So, I often rely on the scholars to point me in the right direction.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” means God has not abandoned the people of Israel and Jesus is bringing to them a message of hope of a better life that is to come. The light is dawning on the people who are sitting in darkness and who in the shadow of death. Jesus is bringing his light of truth to them – and to us. “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” so we have nothing to fear.
Theologians refer to the time we are living in as the in between time, the time between Christ’s resurrection and his second coming. Many are sitting in the darkness and in the shadow of death. Yet, we are in the dawn of the new era that is to come, the time when we are fully living in God’s kingdom.
From here, Matthew jumps to Jesus calling Simon and Andrew, then James and John to be his disciples. This call story is different from last Sunday’s account in the gospel of John, but in both stories the disciples understand from the beginning that this man, Jesus, has a message they need to hear. The call of Jesus is so powerful that, try as we might, we can’t escape it.
In seminary, we swapped our call stories. It took many years for some of us to answer our call to ordained ministry – and it took me longer than most. My call was more like that of Jonah – I had to spend some time in the belly of a whale before I answered it. It also took me longer to complete my preparation for ministry. Typically, one enters seminary full time and completes it in four years. I started part-time and it took me six. With two children in college and one fast approaching that age, I wasn’t able to drop everything and begin.
Hearing that Peter, Andrew, James and John all immediately left their nets and followed Jesus amazes me. Still, I am comforted by the parable in which Jesus notes that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. It is important to remember that we are all on a journey, and it isn’t a race.
It is also important to understand that answering God’s call comes in many forms – we are not all called to ordained ministry. Yet God calls each of us to, in one way or another, help shine the light of his love into the darkness of people’s loneliness, despair, and struggles. The liturgical color for this season of Epiphany is green. This symbolizes growth. Answering Christ’s call to be his disciples is an act of faith and our faith grows as we listen and respond to God’s call.
Having said this, I want to challenge you to reflect on what Christ is calling you to do. How is Christ calling you to share the good news of God’s love with others? I’ve heard some of your stories and I’ve seen many of you respond to God’s call by helping others. I’d love to hear or read your call story.
What many of us in seminary shared as our call began as a feeling that we attempted to ignore, but this feeling persisted until we eventually responded. Perhaps you to have a recurring thought or feeling that you should share your gifts with others. I have found that the Holy Spirit moves through our lives in many ways. Sometimes, we find ourselves being asked the same question repeatedly by different people – a question that is leading us to take action.
I encourage you to listen when this happens and explore it more deeply. God’s call is always toward the light of truth and love. God’s love offers hope and comfort. If your thoughts and feelings are leading you to offer these to others, the Holy Spirit is likely urging you to answer God’s call.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for shining your light on the path that will lead us into a deeper relationship with you and with others. Help us, we pray, to follow that path and invite others to join us in our journey of faith that, working together, we might know that the kingdom of heaven has come near. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.