This sermon was given by our Reader Christine on Sunday 26 January 2020.
When a new boss takes over a company, everyone begins to speculate about what changes they might make? Because everyone expects them to do something different.
And changes is what the readings today have in common.
Everyone, I’m sure, or mostly everyone, who begins something new is usually anxious, nervous and apprehensive. The change can be something quite simple that some people may take in their stride, but changing schools, going to college, a new career, new job or even a new hobby can sometimes be quite daunting.
There are those seeds of doubts,
- Am I doing the right thing?
- What if I fail?
- What if I don’t make the grade or the right decisions?
- In Isaiah’s case:
- What if the people don’t believe that the darkness and gloom will not last forever?
Isaiah may have thought this when he addressed God’s people in Judea and Jerusalem. He begins to paint a picture for them of a new beginning out of the gloom and anguish that the nation is about to be subject to under Assyrian rule as change is inevitable. He speaks of a great light and this great light will be seen by all people who walk in darkness. Isaiah was so certain about the events of which he was prophesying, that he spoke about them as if they had already taken place. Isaiah may not only have been referring to God’s people, but also the Gentiles who they believed lived in darkness. He predicts a time of increased joy with the yoke of slavery being broken. He mentions the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, in the Country of Galilee, which were to suffer under the Assyrian invasion, but it was also there where the first change was to take place. The first area where the great light began to flicker! These were the first people to enjoy the blessing of Christ preaching the gospel and where his miraculous works began.
Matthew himself refers back to Isaiah Chapter 9 when he reminds us about the prophesy Isaiah revealed concerning the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. A prophesy declaring a great light that was to come and shine upon them – a prediction about the Messiah, about Jesus Christ, about the Kingdom coming near. About a time where change was to begin and what a change that was, because once you let Jesus into your life his light begins to shine through you.
The people of Isaiah’s time though must have thought it was never going to happen and Nick Fawcett writes imaginatively about how a resident of Jerusalem might have felt after hearing the words of Isaiah.
- “’The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’
- Do you remember those words? Of course you do – it’s hard not to, isn’t it? But do you think they mean anything? Do you actually believe that things will change, that the Messiah will come and finally establish his kingdom?
- I used to, once. I used to read that passage time and again, a warm glow stealing over me until I tingled with anticipation, convinced that God would soon transform this world of ours.
- Any day now, I thought, it can’t be long – surely. But another day, another month, another year came and went, and, with each one, faith lost a little of its sparkle, until finally the lustre is just about gone, no more than a dull gleam left where once that confidence shone so brightly.
- What happened?
- Did I misunderstand something, or did the prophet get it wrong, his vision not the glorious promise I thought it was but an empty illusory dream?
- Believe me, I want to think otherwise, my spirit still crying out to be proved wrong, but just look around you – at the sin, the suffering, the sorrow, the squalor – and then tell me honestly where God is in all this.
- Can you see that light he promised?
- I can’t.
- I’ve waited, as so many have waited before me telling myself that evil can’t have the last word, that good must finally triumph, but there’s still no sign, nothing to give grounds for optimism, and it’s all I can do not to lose heart completely.
- Yet I must hope; somehow, despite it all, I must keep faith, for if there’s really nothing else in this world than what you see, then God help us!
- I may have my doubts, and it may not be easy, but so long as there’s even the merest spark of faith left, the tiniest, faintest flicker, I’m going to go on hoping, and go on praying: come, Lord, come!”
And come he did! It may have been 700 years after Isaiah’s prophesy, but the Messiah did come bringing the light to all who followed him, who kept the spark of faith alive.
Simeon was one of the first to see that light when Jesus was brought into his temple as a babe in arm and 30 years later Jesus was about to begin his ministry.
According to Matthew Jesus had just heard about John, but Jesus doesn’t go to him, instead he withdrew to Galilee. People may think he did this so he didn’t get into trouble as well, but in fact Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee, so Jesus was still not out of danger.
John is a pivotal figure, the last of the old and the introducer of the new and Jesus was about to bring in that new change. Everything at some time needs to change otherwise we live in the past and that’s not what Jesus’ mission was about.
Jesus knew what his mission was, he knew he was to bring the Kingdom of God closer to everyone and he needed to begin it soon, but he had to start small.
So, he called some fishermen, as we know ordinary everyday folk going about their business. They weren’t particularly looking for any kind of change, yes, they may have not been content with their lives under Roman rule, but they were making a living, following the laws and keeping out of trouble.
Jesus had to trust himself and God in him. This was his plan! It was his way of working. No shining knight on a white horse charging into the Roman compound, but a humble man with a small group (at least to begin with anyway) making changes in a discrete, but noticeable way.
Changes that his disciples could see, hear and witness, that changed people’s lives like Paul. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel.” To change the way people thought and acted.
We often see diet adverts or healthy eating adverts telling us to make one change in the way we live, but Jesus brought many changes!
Jesus brought faith, hope, love, peace and the Kingdom of God closer for all people so that they might be changed by his great light.
Through his prophets; Jesus; his disciples and the Bible; God makes known the love he has for everyone and all he asks in return is for us to be a force for change in this world and to continue to be his light for all to see, to follow him and be prepared to change and make changes.
In this our year of service, let us pray:
O Lord, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change;
courage to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
In Jesus’ name.
Reader @ St. Margaret’s & St. George’s, Prestwich.
- “No Ordinary Man, Book 2” Nick Fawcett (p19).
- Peregrini Resource Book, (p22)