January 26, 2020 Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23
Darkness and light!
Rembrandt, Dutch baroque artist, ranks as one of the greatest painters in the history of Western art. He had a profound understanding of human nature that was matched by a brilliant technique. His work made an enormous impact on his contemporaries and influenced the style of many later artists. Rembrandt’s greatest ability was to convey feeling through gesture and expression. Even more so through dramatic contrasts of light and dark.
I am not an expert on art but I believe that the contrast between light and shadow works so well because the contrast mutually enhances each other, the one helps you to appreciate the other. It is because of the darkness, because of the shadows, that the light is so wonderfully emphasized and vice-verse. Looking at his paintings, you are drawn towards the light as well as the shadows. When you focus on the shadows you are drawn towards the light!
It is said that Rembrandt used the same contrast between light and shadow in his understanding of human nature. Human beings are constantly challenged to choose: light or darkness.
Now Rembrandt was not the first or the last one to use the contrast between light and darkness. Some of the most remarkable people shared some wise words about light and darkness:
Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
Mahatma Gandhi: “In the midst of darkness, light persists.”
Martin Luther King Jr: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
The Author of the forth Gospel, John uses the powerful metaphor of light and darkness as well when, at the beginning of his Gospel writes this about Jesus: “…in him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Many centuries a young prophet used the same metaphor of light and darkness to depict the stark contrast between what was and what could be. Isaiah: “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. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder”.
It goes without saying that Isaiah’s historical context was unique. Israel experienced darkness in many and various forms. Darkness came as internal and external forces that threatened Israel. Darkness came as temptations and in the form of Geo-political enemies with vicious motives and means, economic uncertainty and stress, religious distractions and pressure.
We all share some universal concerns and we can all relate to this image of light and darkness: Personal concerns about the future, about children’s well-being, aging parents, and health concerns. We all live within this tension between light and darkness. I think it is safe to assume that as human being we have things in common with ancient Jews during the time of Isaiah. There is something universal and timeless about forces that threatened ancient Israel back then. This kind of darkness loom over us too.
The point is that all of us, whether we are soldiers in war, investment bankers and politicians, teachers and ministers, doctors and auto-mechanics, managers and lawyers, parents and children, we encounter different kinds and forms of darkness every day of our lives.
And all of us have to make choices: choosing light or choosing darkness. The choice for those with power is either to serve the common good or to abuse their power and influence for the sake of own interests and benefits. The choice of athletes is to play fair and risk a gold medal or choose to use performance enhancers for personal glory. The choice for business people is to serve society by investing in products and people to build up or to make as much money in the shortest time regardless of the cost for humans, society or environment. For our young people the choices are sometimes complex and far from clear. There are many more examples to drive home the point that life is about choices and it is up to us make those choices to let the light shine in and oppose darkness.
It is clear that sometimes some people will find the wisdom, the courage, and the strength to choose light and oppose the darkness. They will act in a decent, righteous fashion, they will make choices that are life enhancing. They will oppose the metaphorical forces of darkness in all and every form. However, some are lured towards the shadows and some will choose darkness.
Shadows and light, good and
bad exist in our world. To deny this
would be naïve; to pretend that good is the only value within people is to
ignore the reality, and to think that only bad people are fascinated and
attracted to the shadow side of life, to darkness, is an arrogant judgment on
the frailty of all human beings.
So yes we have a responsibility to work for the good of all, to resist the shadows of evil and to be humble enough to admit that we are all potential instruments of both good and evil, light and darkness.
We should be careful though, to narrow the shadows of sin down to people’s behavior and people’s choices. We all know that misery and evil are not always the result of human actions or decisions. And we all know that suffering cannot always be explained as the result of a specific choice.
Dark, shadowy colors of sin, brokenness, suffering, and incompleteness are painted on the canvas of this creation. And the whole creation, including humans and environment are part of this picture. Many generations have wrestled with the reality of war, death, corruption, suffering and brokenness. We don’t always understand why the world is such a harsh place and why bad things happen to good people.
Isaiah knew back then that the world he lived in was complex and that there were powers at work. Isaiah knew the importance of being responsible and making right and holy decisions.
But he knew that even though the right and holy decisions made by human beings may push back the enemies of darkness for a moment. He however knew that more was required to conquer evil. He knew that a divine power was needed; only a divine light, bright and powerful, warm and brilliant could conquer the shadows of evil and death. The young prophet hoped for and dreamed of a time when such a divine light would shine into the darkness to dispel the darkness and gloom! And he hoped and prayed for God’s intervention!
And now Jesus begins his ministry. And Matthew, as a Jew writing to Jewish Christians, makes an astounding statement: The people who sat in darkness, those who sat in the region and shadow of death, they have seen a great light, on them light has dawned! Matthew is 100% clear that the time is now: The Divine light that drives out the darkness has arrived! The Divine light that the prophet Isaiah was longing for, has broken through in Jesus Christ! Isaiah’ words are fulfilled in Jesus!
But it does not stop here! Jesus walked by the sea of Galilee and saw two brothers, fishermen, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew. Jesus says: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Then he saw two other brothers, James and John and he calls them too. Matthew gives us a hint about how they longed for the divine light to shine brightly: “Immediately they left their nets and boat and followed him.” No waiting, no excuses, no considering whether it would be worth it, or too risky. Not a maybe, or okay but…” Immediately they followed him. The Divine calls them and who can really resist when the Divine is calling?
But at the same time they were so tired of the darkness of their world. They had enough of a world that kept on disappointing them. They were ready and willing to become part of God’s light that is driving out the darkness in all its evil forms. They waited for long enough and when the Divine light entered this world, they were ready to follow! And what difference did they make! Twelve of them, no actually 11 of them followed the light, shared the light, answered the call and transformed the world.
The last few Sundays the readings have been about our response to God entering our world in Jesus. It is about God calling us. As a response to God’s light shining into this world, we are called to bring light to the world and to people whose lives are filled with dark, shadowy spots: shadows of ill health, shadows of broken relationships, shadows of transitions and uncertainty about the future.
Yes, God calls us to bring light to all the dark and shadowy places of our world. Life is like a Rembrandt painting: there are lots of shadows and darkness, and only a bit of light, but that light shines and resist the darkness. Anne Frank, that remarkable young Dutch girl said this: “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
The amazing thing about
Rembrandt’s paintings, which is also true about life, is that it only takes a
bit of light to push away the darkness. It only requires a touch of light to
balance the painting. It only takes one good deed by one person to transform
the broken world of an individual into a livable place. It only requires people
like us to add to the canvas of life some light to change a dull picture into
an interesting and fascinating work of art. Amen!
You are God, you created everything, you raised Your Son from the dead, You are God who gives life, You are the God who heals.
We are your presence, hoping for your healing. We come with our several diseases and disabilities, diseases of feet and arms and sins of body and spirit lame in a thousand ways. We wait with great expectation. We expect and hope for healing from you, for transformation, for forgiveness, for emancipation. We expect because we heard tales of your healing capacity, old stories of lepers healed and women with bad backs, new reports of beggars who ask for alms and receive healing. Here we are, waiting for you. But we not wait alone; we bring as our companions in suffering, the folk in this congregation who wait in need and hope. We bring as our companions the wretched who wait, diseased by economic disadvantage, disabled by political exclusionary power, immobilized by a thousand slaveries and a dozen anxieties, alienated by failures and other open sores. We bring as our companions the complacent, who discover too late that they have grown numb in indifference and cannot move their hands to help, or their hearts to connect. We bring as our companions the nations of the world that are not healed, the frightened nations armed to their teeth, the old colonial powers that still want to control oil and markets, the erstwhile colonies that still lack viability and our own nation-state with pathologies of greed, discord and violence. We are all here before you, not doubting your capacity, waiting for your readiness, open to your prescriptions, ready immediately to leap and run in health, to dance and sing in restoration, to praise you in our newness. You are the light, shine into our world and lives, bring your best arts of newness and make all things new, even here, even now even for us.
And then, help us to take the light of healing, the light of restoration, the light of newness and the light of life into this darkness so that all your creation be made new and whole. In the name of Jesus we pray, the light of the world who taught us to pray saying..our Father