Third Sunday after Epiphany 23 January 2011
(Isaiah 9:1-4 Psalm 27 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 Matthew 4:12-23)
“A Little Light…a Lot!”
An alarm clock for Christmas is not really the kind of gift that thrills a six-year-old boy. But I had learned my manners well, so I said “thank you” and took it to my bedroom, put it on my nightstand, and wound it up.
It was my very first alarm clock, one of those Baby-Bens. I became so intrigued with it. It didn’t have moving numbers; but it had rotating hands. As soon as I wound it up I began to hear that repeated and sometimes bothersome tick-tick-ticking.
Today you can buy clocks that sound like rain when it’s time to sleep, and sound like roosters, pigs, cows and any other animal, when it is time to get up. There are clocks today with birds chirping and others where you can record the best of Pearl Jam and even your mother’s voice calling you by name to get yourself out of bed. If your mother’s voice is on the snooze alarm, the tone of voice changes and the message becomes slightly more emphatic.
That tick-ticking of my Baby Ben was very annoying at first, but gradually I became used to it and actually it became soothing. I missed that annoying sound when the clock wound down. Over time, I really grew attached to my Baby Ben. I’d even carry it outside with me when I was playing in the dirt or climbing a tree. I learned how to wedge it securely among certain branches.
People usually don’t get sentimental over Baby Bens but I did about this one. Not because of its accuracy (it never quite seemed to be on time!); not even for all its ticking. I really liked it because of its light.
You see, this was the first clock I had ever seen that glowed in the dark.
All day, every day, it soaked up the light. The hands were those little sticks of time and sunshine. And when night came, the clock was ready. So when my brothers and I finally agreed upon turning off the light to sleep, Baby Ben flicked into action, those tiny sticks shining. It wasn’t much light, but when your world is dark, even a little light seems like a lot.
Somewhat like the light shining in the “…land of Zebulon and Naphtali, on the road by the sea…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light…” But who are these guys—Zebulon and Naphtali? They sound like a Jethro Tull album! Actually they are two of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are sons number two and six of Jacob. They’re kind of to the tribes of Israel what Thaddeus and Bartholomew are to the apostles of Jesus—no one knows much about them!
So why, in Matthew’s Gospel, a Gospel written to Jews, does the incarnation of the word of God, the Light come into the world, not begin in Jerusalem, the bedrock of Jewish culture and religion, but instead, begins out in the Gentile countryside?
The text answers this question by pushing us out into a land of contempt, a land despised by the Pharisees, forcing the Gospel to become a “light for the nations.” This text pushes us further beyond the boundaries of our own comfort and security!
The prophet Isaiah (from the quote Matthew uses) gives a name to this light. He calls it “joy.” Unbelievable joy will come from such light! There will be a time when joy shall be so great that it feels like that shout of joy at plundering a foe, or the shout of joy at a harvest of terrific proportions. (you add whatever else it would be in your life that would create such a loud shout of joy!).
Isaiah, the great prophet of hope, says that to be filled with joy begins with freedom and liberation. It isn’t enough for us simply to raise our voices in joyful shout at the victory of light over darkness.
He says that the darkness will be shattered once and for all, as on the day at Midian when there was great victory by the few against the many. So, as on that day of great victory, we can live with confident hope that, 1.) We are no longer slaves to darkness; 2.) darkness no longer has authority over our lives.
That’s the hope on which we stand! There are so many people working together to make good happen throughout the world, individually and collectively, to make light shine in what so often feels like overwhelming darkness.
The usual pictures often arising in our minds during the Epiphany season are of scenes of light—calm, serene, blessed. We might even see a Rembrandt of the Holy Family bathed in light with the admiring glances of wise men or shepherds. But the Biblical picture of the dawning of the light is well aware that it only comes after a night of gloom and that it is described in images that still reek of violence. But this is the season of light. Darkness does not have authority over us! We are not slaves to darkness!
Christ has come into our world, and we receive the light Christ brings. This light changes us from people locked in narrow ethnic and religious communities to those open to the Light shining throughout our entire world. Our burdens of darkness have been broken as on the” day of Midian,” when the few claimed victory over the many! We, too, claim such victory!
I often think back to those times when I’d awake as a very young boy in the middle of a pitch-dark night, sometimes scared or confused, and I’d see those tiny sticks of light. It wasn’t much light, but when one’s world is dark, even a little light seems like a lot.
Come to the Light today, the Light of Jesus Christ. Be that light—even when the world feels pitch-black, and even when you feel as if you have so little light to give. You make a difference!
May the freedom and power of Christ’s light wash over you. Amen.