The Great Light

Sunday, January 22, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 4:12-23

Imagine a world filled with darkness – before the creation of light. Imagine a world before lamps, electricity, flashlights, mobile phones that light up. Imagine a world where darkness surrounds you all the time. Before the invention of modern electricity where people could just flip a switch and light would suddenly appear that was the case. People sat in darkness and waited for the light of dawn. At times, it must have felt like forever, until….electricity was invented, which changed the world.

Imagine what it must have been like for the ancient Israelites as written down in our first reading from Isaiah. They were beaten down. They endured centuries of oppression from the Assyrian Empire. Their Northern Kingdom was destroyed. They were invaded not just once or twice, but three times by the Babylonian Empire who invaded Jerusalem and eventually utterly destroyed the holy temple. As Isaiah writes, the people “walked in darkness.” They walked in darkness – emotional darkness until….the “great light” of God’s love and mercy shined on them. Hope changed their world.

Since the beginning of time – since the beginning of creation when the world was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep – people have found themselves sitting, walking, and waiting in darkness – waiting for the light to come – and for some the light takes a long time to reach them. Men, and women, and children even today sit and wait in the darkness of poverty wondering when the light will shine into their lives and break the darkness. Individuals sit and wait in the darkness of mental, physical, or emotional darkness praying for the light of healing and hope. There are individuals who sit and wait in the darkness of inequality and long for the light of day when they will be treated fairly. There are so many among us – here in our congregation, in our communities, in our world – who walk in the darkness of fear unable to see any light that will break through their darkness and shatter the false illusions. It is hard to sit and wait in the darkness, particularly if you are waiting alone.

But we don’t have to sit and wait alone any longer. Jesus said, “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.” Jesus, the Light of the world, has come to bring us out of darkness, to proclaim that in him the kingdom of heaven has come near. It means that God’s kingdom is not something we look forward to after we die, but through Jesus it begins to be revealed right here on earth. It’s what Jesus taught us to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus invites us to follow him in making that happen, bringing God’s kingdom here on earth.

That invitation started with the first disciples when Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. What made these ordinary fishermen leave their livelihood, drop their nets, and immediately follow Jesus? They left everything behind and didn’t even know where he was leading them to, yet they didn’t hesitate. Why? Because they saw the great light of Jesus, and they had to follow. His light, his spirit, his very presence compelled them to follow him. It was infectious. They encountered the light of God in the flesh of Jesus even if they didn’t know it at the time, and they were changed by that brief interaction with him. That is what an encounter with Jesus does to a person; it changes you and you are never the same again. Where have you encountered Jesus?

We first encountered him in our baptism before we even were able to understand. We encounter Jesus through the sacrament of Holy Communion as Jesus’ very real presence comes to us and abides in us through the gifts of bread and wine. His body and blood changes us as we receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and grace in that holy meal. The light of Jesus then envelops you, it takes over you, abides in you, and you yourself reflect that light.

When was the last time you invited someone to share in this holy encounter with Jesus? When was the last time you invited someone to encounter Jesus through you? That’s what answering Jesus’ call to follow him means. It means to reflect Jesus’ light in this world. It means to shine his light in the dark places of this world. It’s not merely a call to believe, but a call to action. The call to follow Jesus demands an immediate response because there is a lot of darkness that needs to be overcome. It means to show God’s love to all people through loving words and actions. It means being kind in all situations and treating others as we would want to be treated. It means to have compassion for people by putting ourselves in their shoes, listening to their concerns, respecting their opinions, and feeling their pain and then doing whatever we can do alleviate their suffering. We are called – each and every one of us – to shine the light of Jesus wherever the Holy Spirit leads us.

We don’t know where the Spirit will lead us, or what the Spirit will ask us to do. The Spirit is eager to speak through us and through others. We must be alert and open to answer that call to action. We must listen for those people and situations that are praying for help and let God answer their prayers through us, just as others can be the answer to the prayers we lift up to God. Our God is a mighty God who works through people to answer prayers, to feed the hungry, to care for the poor, and to seek justice for the oppressed.

God has been intervening to bring light out of the darkness from the beginning of creation. When our world was lost in sin, Jesus came to bring God’s light and salvation to break through our darkness. Jesus is now calling us to follow him and continue to shine his light to all the dark corners in our world. We are to shine that light in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our neighborhoods, and everywhere we go.

Imagine a world filled with light. Imagine signs everywhere saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” That is the vision that God has for this world. That is why Jesus came and that is why he asks us to follow him today. Imagine how bright that light would shine if we all shined together. Jesus said, “follow me.” That call to action begins today. Amen!

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