3 EPIPHANY—The Lord is My Light
Isaiah 9:1-4; Ps. 27:1,5-13; Matthew 4:12-23
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Raleigh, North Carolina
January 22, 2017
The Rev. Dr. Kathryn C. Mathewson
This week I felt like I was in a dark fog. I was fighting a bad cold. It was grey and rainy. My husband was out of town, and the house was so quiet. Then on Friday, I turned on the TV at noon to see more rain, and hear a speech that told a story of a failing country—“American carnage,” he called it. A dark place. A dark story.
“The people,” says the prophet Isaiah, “walked in darkness–lived in a land of deep darkness.” All this week, reading the scripture and praying about what God wanted me to say to you this morning, another story came to light.
We tell stories when we gather for a meal–at the dinner table, or around the Thanksgiving turkey. We tell the stories of our family—who we are and whose we are. So let’s gather here around God’s meal table, and tell God’s story. Keep in mind 2 things: God’s nature is love, and, love’s nature is to be spent.
So, in the beginning, God of love spent. God created. God played with the waters awhile, and then calmed their chaos into order with his breath, his ruach—God’s Spirit. The Word of God poured forth—“Let there be”— and the stars lit up, the grasses flourished, fish flitted, birds swooped, and dogs barked. God chuckled in delight. “O, this is so good!” God said that every day. But, now came God’s biggest experiment, God’s biggest risk. God created Humans, creatures different from animals and angels because of one thing: they were created in the image of God. That is, not to LOOK like God—but to BE like God. To have God’s nature to love and spend it. But—and herein lies the risk—God gave Humans choice. They were free to love or hate, accept or reject—even God’s love. Running freely among the hills and dales of God’s lovely garden, Humans couldn’t resist the slippery slope. “Wanting to be LIKE God” became “wanting to BE God.” Thus was introduced the villain in the story—sin.
In his novel The Fall, Albert Camus says that the essence of sin is “radical self-centeredness.”
Jesuit theologian John Kavanaugh says of Camus’ hero, Clamence,
His whole life is devoted to denying any duty to which he might be held responsible, or any morality by which he might be judged. “The essential is being able to permit oneself everything.” Further, Camus is saying that if we humans cannot be healed or delivered from this moral sickness, we are condemned to an endless hate, not unlike Satan’s. “How intoxicating to feel like God the Father. … I sit enthroned among my bad angels. … I understand without forgiving, and above all, I feel at last that I am being adored!”
So, along with the villain of sin, our human ancestors left the garden in disgrace after sassing God. And the journey back has been a rocky one ever since.
Remember that huge flood which wiped out the earth—all, that is, except Noah’s family whom God called to faithfully follow God’s promise. They and a boatload of God’s creatures, sailed in the dark hold for 40 rainy days, until a dove, sent out to scout, returned with an olive branch—Land Ho! And through a rainbow painted across the sky, God sent humans his first tweet: “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (Which means that God will never leave us to perish alone)
Then there was that terrifying pursuit of Pharaoh’s army as the Israelites fled captivity in Egypt. God called the Israelites to step right into the dark depths of the Red Sea and walk clear along the bottom to reach the other side. God scooped out a path, carving out edges in the waves. The people ran for their lives, as the waves crashed together behind them, drowning Pharaoh’s army, saving the Israelites. God with them through the water.
And God sent prophets to God’s people to warn them that they were going off the rails when the people reached only toward glittering junk in the dark fog of greed. And God sent signs of compassion to God’s people in exile to guide them toward hopeful paths, when the darkness of fear became too dense. But the truly best part of this story is when God sent light to slice through the darkness, to cut it open once for all. God planted the essence of his nature—love—into the womb of a young human girl, making this the biggest risk of all God’s creation. Love incarnate. As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “God with skin on.” God truly “with us.”—Immanuel. Jesus of Nazareth.
The people of God walked with Jesus. They heard his teachings and watched his healings as they followed bearing their needs and wants and yearnings. Jesus blessed them. But, humans being what they are, some rejected him out of fear, or jealousy, or ignorance. And, inevitably, God’s risky experiment to live and die as one of us came to a tragic end. The people of God saw Jesus nailed to a cross.
They watched him suffered.
They grieved when he died.
But they didn’t count on God’s promise, probably because, as usual, they forgot: I will never leave you. On the third day after the crucifixion, Jesus, risen by the love of God which was stronger than the hate of humans, reminded his followers that the darkness could never again overcome the light. Never could radical self-centeredness, or fear, or oppression, or the darkness of evil ever put out the light of Christ. But we would never have known this if it hadn’t been for the faithful followers who continued to gather after Jesus’ death.
They came to the tomb to anoint his body. They returned to tell the story, “I have seen the Lord!” They gathered around the table, sharing bread and wine. But mostly they gathered to tell the story—to REMEMBER his words. And in doing so, they found themselves again in his presence. “Peace be with you,” he said, showing them his wounds. If the people of God who had followed the light of Christ hadn’t kept gathering and sharing the story, we never would have known. Time and time again Jesus had told them that he would rise from the dead, but who could begin to fathom such impossibility as resurrection? Who could ever believe that God could take the evil of human sin—radical self-centeredness—and transform it into a new life of eternal possibility? Who could believe that God is with us always, no matter how dark it seems?
“The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light.” The light continues to shine before us now. It’s not always easy to see. It shines brighter when we gather and share God’s story. This light of hope, of resurrection, of the possible emerging from the blood of the impossible, is God’s promise to us—right from the beginning. I will not leave you.
“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?”
“Repent,” says Jesus. “Turn around. Come to me. I am here.”
God, who breathed order over chaos; God who painted his promise of love in the sky; God who parted the waters, and sent the prophets, and continually brought his people back from captivity; God who lived and died as one of us; God who can make the impossible possible, says to us:
Do not despair. Do not be afraid. I am with you.
Now go, and keep telling the story:
Immanuel—“God with us.”