“In the Dark”
Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-23
January 26, 2020, Boeuff Presbyterian Church
Darkness can look like many things: the time before the sun rises. Hopelessness in dark nights of the soul. Fear of an uncertain future. Or simply the deep darkness at night that allows you to fully see the beauty of the stars. Many of those definitions are at play in our scriptures today and each worthy of an entire sermon focusing on them. But for today, I want to focus our attention on the type of “in the dark,” we are when we simply don’t know what is going on.
Our passage in the New Testament points us to the prophecy in our Old Testament text. The understanding in their correlation is that Jesus is the light dawning on those who have been in darkness. But this Jesus of Nazareth was not so easily understood as the fulfillment of prophecy in his time.
So much of Jesus’ ministry to those around him left them in the dark. Scripture tells us over and over that the disciples rarely, if ever, fully understood what Jesus was trying to tell them. Even when Jesus told them exactly what was going to happen. Even as prophecies such as our text today spelled it out for them precisely what Jesus was doing. They so often have no idea what Jesus was talking about.
Also, so much of Jesus’ ministry happened out of sight of mainstream culture and society, in the homes of those on the margins, among tax collectors, and on seashores off the beaten path. Our text today occurs in Northern Galilee, which in Jesus’ time was largely composed of poor people involved in the fishing industry. Not exactly the place one would go to network or schmooze with the well connected.
Jesus often spoke in parables. And I guess when you’re speaking about the counter-cultural realities of the realm of God, sometimes stories approximating the nature of the thing are the closest you can get. In a way, he’s utilizing the tradition of his culture. So much of rabbinical teaching comes not in the form of answers, but in the form of questions, ever unpeeling layer after layer to discern what is true. And my goodness did Jesus frustrate those around him by responding to questions with questions of his own.
But this Jesus of Nazareth was the light who came to those in darkness, and it took his death and resurrection for those around him to know that more fully.
Throughout time, those who have followed God have sought the clarity of God’s full revelation, frustrated with the unknowability of God. It was once believed that were God fully revealed, such power would kill you on the spot.
There’s a poem by Emily Dickinson on this theme:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Truth, Emily Dickinson infers, is too great to be understood all at once. In that way, it was a small mercy that those around Jesus didn’t fully comprehend all of his identity in his lifetime. The concepts of Christ’s humanity and divinity have been studied, analyzed, and debated through the centuries. But those followers of Christ in his time were spared the discomfort of fully understanding every little detail about Christ’s nature, so they could be in actual relationship with this man, who was also God. Christ’s divinity wasn’t hidden exactly but was certainly not fully known.
But God doesn’t intend to keep us in the dark, sending the Holy Spirit to give us as much clarity about God’s love, grace, and mercy as we are able to receive. Through the Holy Spirit, God’s revelation alights the darkness, providing a path for us not just to know the Christ who has come to save us, but to follow Jesus out of that boat and into the world. May we greet the dawn of Christ’s revelation. Amen.