Sermon for 23 January 2011
Isaiah 9: 1-4
Matthew 4: 12-23
By Sharyn Hall
‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.’
The concepts of light and darkness were very important to the ancient people of the Bible. Darkness was a reality for them, which we in industrial countries of the twenty-first century do not experience. We live in a world of constant light. During the darkness of night, there is light along our streets and highways, outside and inside our homes, in factories and office towers. Office towers are towers of light scraping the dark sky. Often we have so much light around us that we cannot see God’s starry firmament above us.
We are so accustomed to breaking the darkness that we panic when we lose the power to make our own light. When there is a black-out, we become people walking in darkness. Darkness envelops us, creating anxiety and danger. Darkness provides the opportunity for people to give in to their dark temptations, to loot and steal, to harm and to destroy under the cover of darkness. In our homes, we search for a candle, which amazingly illuminates much more that its small flame of fire. We are grateful that the surrounding darkness cannot blot out the tiny flame. The fact that a cloud of darkness cannot extinguish a simple beam of light, and that a beam of light can split the darkness, became a powerful symbol to ancient people who lived much of their lives confronting the power of darkness.
When Isaiah writes about a people who walk in darkness, he is not describing their physical reality, he is talking about a lost people, who have become separated from God. Isaiah describes a people whose eternal destiny is without God because they have turned away from the light of God to live in darkness.
Light is God’s creation. God’s first act of creation was to pierce the darkness of chaos with light. Light denotes the divine presence of God and becomes the symbol for what God gives to the world and to humanity. In the Bible, light is associated with God’s glory, God’s righteousness, truth and love. Light is a symbol of God’s saving grace for all people. Jesus was accepted by the early Christians as the way to a renewed relationship with God, and consequently, Jesus became identified as a light from God to confront the darkness in people’s lives. To walk as people of light, the followers of Jesus were called to turn away, or in other words to repent, from their sins of darkness.
In our passage from the Gospel of Matthew, the quote from the prophet Isaiah reminds the people that the light of God came to their ancestors who lived in darkness. A new light has dawned in the Saviour sent by God. Matthew links that new light with the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. The gospel states, ‘From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Christians are called to choose the light. God gives us the freedom to choose, to choose justice against injustice, to choose compassion against cruelty, to choose peace against aggression, to choose love against hatred. Christians can become complacent, even arrogant, about being people of the light of Christ; however, the history of Christianity has dark shadows. The early Christians began to quarrel amongst themselves. St. Paul wrote to the small Christian community in Corinth to chastise them for their bickering about baptism. As the Christian church spread to other countries and cultures, the Christian faith began to fragment into different theologies and practices. Unfortunately along with fragmentation came more bickering, prejudice, hatred and sometimes violence.
This past week was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is celebrated by many churches around the world. On Thursday evening, I attended a service at St. John’s Anglican Church in Ancaster to commemorate the Week of Prayer. The service of prayers, scripture and music was a joint venture between St. John’s parish and St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church. For over one hundred years, people have observed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and much has been accomplished, particularly in recent decades.
People from different Christian denominations meet together, worship together and work together to follow Christ’s mission of compassion, justice and peace. As you know, the Anglican Church of Canada is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; this has brought us together to pray, to share the sacraments and to work for social justice. I chair an inter-church committee of Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics from four dioceses, which organizes events to foster mutual understanding and fellowship among us.
Every opportunity for mutual understanding needs to be grasped so that Christians can be united as the body of Christ. To be united does not mean to be uniform in our worship, scriptural interpretation or customs. As Christians we need to be united in sustaining the light of Christ’s mission, amongst ourselves and for the benefit of all people. Daily we are reminded that many people walk in darkness, the darkness of war, of disaster, of poverty, the darkness of hatred, cruelty and injustice.
We can find hope if we remember that darkness only exists where there is no light. If you are standing in a dark room and someone opens the door to a room full of light, darkness does not invade the lighted room; the light comes to you to dispel the darkness. Each one of us can be that someone who opens a door of light to dispel the darkness, and to bring God’s saving grace into this troubled world. Amen.