Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
Today’s gospel begins with the terrifying news that John the Baptist has been arrested. We know that he will be imprisoned until Herod has him executed.
John was a religious man whose preaching stepped over the line into politics. So long as he kept his message vague – Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand – he was watched suspiciously by religious and civil authorities and left alone. He could harangue about the usual sins – gossip, petty thievery, cheating in the marketplace, neglecting the poor, the widowed and orphans -- but when he spoke about Herod’s marriage to his recently-widowed sister-in-law he violated the code.
People like to separate their lives into various compartments: political, personal, professional, emotional, family and so forth. Most of the time, in daily management of their affairs, this compartmentalization works well enough. Problems in one area don’t have to trouble one’s whole life; and we can often draw great satisfaction from one area while another one causes intense frustration. When work gets too difficult just pull out the photos of the grandchildren and take a break.
Herod liked to hear John’s preaching; the wild-eyed prophet was very entertaining until he crossed the line.
When John was arrested Jesus stepped forward with the same message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But his announcement more than overstepped compartmental boundaries, he called his disciples to leave their fishing and their families and follow him. His kingdom of heaven would be an entirely new way of life, a new organizing principle for all of one’s compartments.
In today’s gospel Jesus appears as a light shining in darkness.
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by deathThis is the same light the magi saw from afar and found in Bethlehem. It is a joyous, happy light; it resonates with springtime, new life and new opportunities. Darkness has vanished, a new day has begun.
light has arisen.
Most Christians remember the day they stepped out of that darkness into the light of Christ. They invited the light to shine in every hidden compartment of their lives, to reveal and govern their money, their eating, their exercise, their entertainment, work, ambitions, goals and relationships. The old ways of managing and micromanaging and keeping secrets between their separate lives were not working for them. They remember the amazing new freedom of this way of life, that they can let grace operate and manage what they cannot.
The gospel invites us today to remember the freedom of the children of God as we step into this new year. There will be many challenges and some of them daunting. But nothing will happen this year that God cannot handle, especially when I get out of the way