“If the lights are on, why is it so dark?”

Third Sunday After  the Epiphany

TEXTS: Isaiah 9:1-4 and 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 9:2)

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)

At the heart of the Christian proclamation is the assertion that God in Christ has shined a heavenly light in the midst of a dark world. Our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah reflects this belief. It says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

Israel’s existence was always tenuous. Most of Israel’s history was lived out in the shadows of giants like Egypt, Persia and Assyria—the superpowers of their day. Not exactly a comfortable—or secure—place to be!

But God shined a light of hope in their darkness, and promised them a Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth came as the fulfillment of that promise. He was the light of God made flesh.

Matthew’s Gospel records how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophesy. He came announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God. He preached. He taught. He healed. He called people to discipleship—and shined the light of God in their dark lives.

You may recall what another gospel writer—John—said about that: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” (John 1:5)

The light of God—the light of Christ—still shines! And so we, the people of God, the Church of Christ, still proclaim that message. We celebrate the fact that God has shined heavenly light in the midst of our dark earthly existences. We affirm that God still shines the light of his love and grace upon those who dwell in darkness. We proclaim that in Christ God brings joy and peace and forgiveness and grace to those who will believe.

That assertion—that God has shined light on us—is at the heart of all we say and do as Christian people. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

The world still needs that light. This world needs it because it still dwells in darkness. If you don’t believe me, just open your eyes!

Sometimes the problem with we Christians is that we don’t open our eyes to see the darkness. We close our eyes to reality and go around saying, “all is peace and joy and love,” and we don’t see the darkness all around us. Perhaps we have spent so much time talking about the light that we have forgotten about the darkness. But if our eyes are not open to see the darkness, then how can we see the light shine?

We live in a desperate world, filled with injustice. People kill and are killed for drugs in one country—and for bread in another. Individuals everywhere live under the oppression of alcohol and opiates and domestic violence. Toxic ideologies enslave nations, and millions face starvation worldwide. Every day, multitudes perish from diseases that are preventable and curable. Why? Because they cannot afford the medicine.

We send peacekeepers all over the world, but wars persist. Tyrants kill and terrorize, as diplomacy proves futile. War continues to ravage Ukraine. Tensions rise in “hot spots” around the globe.

Earth is a gloomy place. There is no denying that. It is a world filled with the darkness of murder, oppression, and hatred in all its forms. The world needs the light of Christ!

What I want to know is this: If the lights are on, why is it still so dark? If the light of the world has indeed come, why is there so much darkness? There seems to be a basic incongruity between our faith and the reality of the world.

We Christians believe that the light has shined in the darkness. We say that Christ is the light of the world. But reality shows us that darkness still appears to be the order of the day.

This is an important question. We can’t simply dismiss it, and refuse to acknowledge the darkness out there. This is an important question because it recognizes the reality of human life and seeks to apply the Gospel to it. We need to begin to understand why the darkness persists even though Christ has come. Then we can begin to shine God’s light in that darkness.

So, again I ask: If the lights are on, why is it still so dark? Consider once again our gospel lesson from chapter four of Matthew:

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake … From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matt. 4:12-13a, 17)

Jesus had been born about 30 years before. The light had already come into the world. But the powers of darkness still ruled. When Herod threw John the Baptist in jail, that was just another example of the pervasiveness of the darkness.

The light had come into the world, but the world still did not see it. So Jesus began showing it to them. He taught and preached to help enlighten people’s hearts. He demonstrated the power of God through healings and miracles. He showed them that the world was in the hands of a loving and gracious God.

However, Jesus did not accomplish this by himself. He called ordinary people to follow him. The light of God’s Kingdom had come, and they were to help him spread the good news.

Oh, to be sure, there was still plenty of darkness left when those first disciples died—but through Christ each one of them brought light to someone. Dark lives were enlightened through their ministry. The Book of Acts is full of stories about that. Stories like:

  • The lame beggar who was healed through the ministry of Peter and John (3:1-10);
  • The Ethiopian official whom Philip baptized in the desert (8:26-38);
  • Dorcas (or Tabitha), whom Peter prayed back to life (9:36-41);
  • Cornelius, the Roman centurion (10:1-48);
  • Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul of Cyprus (13:4-12);
  • The Philippian jailer and his family (16:25-34);

Not to mention the “3,000 souls” added to the church at Pentecost (2:41)! All these were given new life in Christ through the efforts of those earliest disciples. And that was only the beginning; there have been 20 centuries of light since then.

We live in a dark world. That is the truth. But it is also the truth that God has shined a light in that darkness. Every single one of us who has experienced that forgiveness and salvation of God—every single one of us has seen that light!

The light is here, and it enlightens and brightens human lives. But there are still so many who miss it. People have shut their eyes to the darkness and so they fail to see the light. So, my word to you today is: shine that light! Follow the example of Jesus’ earliest disciples:

  • Show God’s love to those around you;
  • Shine the light of hope in the midst of someone else’s hopelessness;
  • Dispel the darkness of prejudice and hatred with the light of love that God has given you.

Christ came into the darkness of our lives and our world to bring light. And he called people—just regular people like you and me—to draw attention to that light. God is asking you to be a part of Christ’s ministry—calling you to shine light in the darkness.

So, answer the call! Open your eyes to the darkness around you, then shine the light of Christ in it. You can do it—because you do have the light! You can do it—because the light of Christ in you is more powerful than the darkness can ever be.

Thanks be to God for that. Amen.

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