Tuesday, January 24, 2017

True Light

Sermon for Epiphany 3A preached on Sunday, January 22, 2017, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich

“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Mt 4:16).

When I was a student at IU, I went on a cave tour with a group from church.  There’s many memories I have of that trip, like crawling through mud on our bellies and coming face to face with a bat hanging inches from my head.  This experience with the bat was unforgettable, but there’s something else that was even more unforgettable, how dark caves actually are. 

Our tour guide led us deep underground into a large cavern.  We were so far down there was no way any sunlight could reach us.  The only light we had was the artificial light from the small lights that lined our path.  With a quick warning, the guide turned off the lights, leaving us in a paralyzing and overwhelming darkness.  No one moved or made a sound.  We were in shock of the complete darkness.  After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, the guide flipped the lights back on, filling the cavern again with artificial light. 

That artificial man-made light provided us comfort in that dark cave, but it can’t comfort us in the darkness of our lives.  We live with a lot of darkness, both in the day and the night.  This darkness comes despite the sun’s rising.  We can’t escape it and no artificial light, no man-made solution, can overcome it, because this darkness is the result of our sin.  Our sin covers the world in spiritual darkness and death; but the light of Christ saves us from this darkness.  The light of Christ comforts us and brings us into everlasting life. 

The light of Jesus was long foretold of by God’s prophets.  Quoting Isaiah, Matthew shows that Jesus fulfills all these prophecies.  Isaiah said, “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death on them a light has dawned” (Mt 4:15-16).  In order to see how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, we first need to know the history of Zebulun and Naphtali.

These two tribes of Israel lived in the northern part of the country.  When the Assyrians conquered them, they deported many Israelites and pagans from other lands moved in.  This deportation brought oppression and spiritual darkness into the land.  With the pagans came their false religion and false gods.  It was because of this influx of non-Jewish people and false worship that this region became known as the “Galilee of Gentiles.”  This wasn’t a good name. 

When Jesus heard of John the Baptist’s arrest He went north, to the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, to the Galilee of the Gentiles.  And in this movement, the prophecy of Isaiah 9 was fulfilled.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Light of the World went into the darkness of Galilee and His light was seen by those who were dwelling in darkness, in the shadow of death (Mt 4:16).

But Jesus isn’t just the Light for those in Galilee, those in 1st century Israel.  He’s the Light of the world: past, present, and future.   

In our society, today, we try to overcome all sorts of darkness with false hopes, with man-made artificial light.  Feeling emotional and physical pain, we turn to anything and everything that might offer us even a small bit of release from suffering.  Many elderly and terminally ill, people who endure the darkness of depression, people who daily suffer physical discomfort contemplate suicide, thinking their lives aren’t worth living anymore, thinking death is better than a painful life.  People unhappy with their lives seek happiness wherever they can find it, whether it be in sex outside of marriage, drugs and alcohol, retail therapy at the mall, or in all sorts of false religions that promise a happy and pain free life. 

All this darkness, all the pain and suffering we endure, all the death in our lives is a consequence of our sin.  We cause it, and yet, we’re unable to overcome it.  We fumble around for a light, only to fall deeper and deeper into more darkness.  We can’t make an artificial light bright enough to overcome our sin and death.  But Jesus has come and He’s the true light that overcomes all darkness. 

Christ calls us to live without the fear of the darkness because He’s the light that overcomes it; He’s the true light that overcomes it for you. 

Jesus began His public ministry preaching the same thing that John the Baptist did, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17).  When John proclaimed this, he was announcing that the kingdom of heaven would soon be here.  When Jesus proclaimed this, He was announcing that the kingdom of heaven was here in Him.  The kingdom of heaven isn’t a worldly kingdom with earthly power and false solutions to the darkness of sin.  The kingdom of heaven is from God; it’s God’s work of salvation where He gives you the true solution to sin: forgiveness!

The only way the darkness of sin and death can be overcome is for sin to be taken away, and Christ Jesus has done this.  He came into our dark world and saved you by being your substitute on the cross.  He shed His holy precious blood and sacrificed His innocent life to pay the penalty of sin.  He defeated death by rising from the grave.  His death, resurrection, and forgiveness are true light.  Unlike artificial light and man-made solutions, Christ’s light and forgiveness never fail or go out. 

And Jesus invites you to live in this light.  Jesus called to Peter, Andrew, James, and John saying “Follow me” (Mt 4:19).  He called them to live in His light.  Likewise, He’s called you to follow Him and live in His light.  He did this in your Baptism where the Spirit gave you the faith to trust in Him, to believe in His death and resurrection for your salvation.  As you continue to live in this dark world, He strengthens your faith as He feeds you His life giving Body and Blood, and as you hear His forgiving Words of Absolution. 

Unlike our daily lives here on earth that are filled with the darkness of sin and death, the everlasting life that we’ve been given is only light.  In the book of Revelation, God promises that He’ll wipe away all our tears, that death will be no more, and that there’ll never be mourning, crying, or any pain (Rev 21:4).  In Galilee, Jesus healed all kinds of disease and sickness.  Those oppressed by demons, those who suffered epilepsy, and those who were paralyzed were all healed.  These miraculous healings pointed to the everlasting life we’ll have in heaven. 

Through these miracles, Jesus foreshadowed the work of His cross.  On the cross, He penetrated the darkness, shining forth His light, overcoming sin.  We still suffer disease, illness, pain, sorrow, and even death here on earth, but in heaven, we’ll no longer live in this darkness.  Then we’ll be living in Jesus’ glorious light forever, and in faith, we confidently wait and endure the darkness of our day, knowing that our Savior has already overcome it. 

Darkness no longer has the upper hand.  We have no need for artificial light that only offers temporary comfort, for the true Light has overcome the overwhelming darkness, shining forth forgiveness and everlasting life.  The light of Christ can’t be turned off.  Like Him, it’s always present in His gifts--in the waters of Baptism, in the healing words of Absolution, and in the Bread and Wine that is His Body and Blood.  Through these means, He sustains you as you endure the darkness of our world and live in His light.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

1 comment:

Paul Becker said...

Now I feel better about the coming generation of the flock of Christ with under-shepherds proclaiming in this way:)