A sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 22, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4; 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.” We hear those words from the prophet Isaiah spoken to a people in deep darkness–in exile, suffering, hopelessness, despair. Isaiah is telling them it won’t always be this way. Light is coming.
Isaiah is speaking to his own people at a time of war and chaos and exile, but he is also speaking down through the ages by the Holy Spirit. For one is coming who will banish the deepest darkness, the darkness of sin and death. Christ comes, and Matthew tells us he is the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. Jesus brings light and life with his message: repent, turn to God, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near to you; it’s within your very grasp.
Christ banishes the darkness by his life and teaching. He comes to dwell in the darkness with us, to get into our mess. And what a mess we make. But in the middle of that mess, in the middle of that darkness, his life shines. And he teaches us to follow in his way of light and life. He comes to bring peace and joy. In our darkness, he comes to remind us that we are made in the image of God, made for goodness. He comes to show us what the love of God really is–the love in which we are all called to live by virtue of our baptisms into his life.
Ultimately, Christ will banish the darkness by his cross and resurrection. In the cross he descends to the depths of darkness, to the depths of hell itself. He descends to destroy it, to pull us from our graves of sin and despair. And by his glorious resurrection, he destroys the power of sin and death over us. Sin and death continue still, but they have lost their power, for we have been brought into newness of life eternal by our baptisms into Christ’s death and resurrection.
And now, with Christ within us, we are called to walk in this world, just as he did, and let that light shine. In a world of chaos, we live in peace. In a world of despair, we live in joy. In a world that says this is all there is, we point to a heavenly city, a deeper reality that is already alive within us. In a world of fear, we live in love. The light shines through us into the darkness, and the darkness will not, cannot, overcome it.
But the truth is, sometimes we can walk around and forget, quite casually, that we have a light within us. We walk around as if we are in darkness still. We can forget that our hearts are already on fire with the glory of God. Like a camper at the choir camp I help at. Anytime we were off to choir or handbells, he would limp. “I can’t walk,” he would say. But then pool time would come, or lunch time would come, or break time would come, and he would forget to limp. He would take off running.
We can be like that, making ourselves limp along because we have forgotten the love and light of God that has been poured already into our hearts. We have forgotten that the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We have forgotten that we belong to God forever. Darkness swirls about us, and we have forgotten that we need not be overcome by it because Christ’s light shines within us.
Today is the annual meeting, and we will elect members of the vestry and see the budget for the year to come. And it all seems very banal, very boring. But I wonder if we could also see today as an opportunity to take some spiritual inventory. Perhaps to recommit to a new way of living.
In 2023, in the darkness of this world, I hope we shine. I hope this church shines as a light in the community. I hope we shine with a faith in the God of goodness who made us for goodness, who is with us even when the darkness seems overwhelming. I hope we shine with the peace of God that passes all understanding and holds us fast to God’s promises. I hope we shine with the love of God that knows no bounds–a love that welcomes all, and I mean all, through our front doors. That flame from God kindled in our hearts, I pray that in 2023 this church family will live those words from St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be, and set the world on fire.”
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