January 26; 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year A

Light shines brightest in the darkest 3rd OT 19 20nights

The darkness seems to be a scary place. Whether we like to admit a true fear or not, there are things that are scary about the dark: we can’t see where we are going, and we can’t identify hazards that might be surrounding us. Darkness feels empty. But the truth is that just because we can’t see what’s in a dark place, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing there. Darkness does not necessarily mean absence, and it certainly does not mean the absence of God. In fact, Saint John of the Cross would tell us that God is more certainly present in the darkness of our experiences, to the point that he could even call it “holy darkness”, “holy night.” Darkness is a part of life, a backdrop for the stars at night, the space between what you know. Darkness has a way of reminding you of the light you’ve been given on all those other days. You have to know the darkness before you can truly appreciate the light. Isn’t it true that it is often on the darkest nights, that we can see the brightest stars?

But there is also a darkness that comes with defeat, failure, oppression, isolation and sin. It is a darkness that is no friend to the light. In fact, it is the darkness that tries to exclude all light. And here, more than ever, we long for the liberation of the light.

How comforting, then, that in our scripture readings today, God’s only begotten Son, our Saviour, is described as that great light in the darkness. Matthew's account of the beginning of Jesus' preaching proclaims that a new age has dawned when the light of salvation is manifest to the whole world. Our Lord is the light that came to illuminate the way for those who couldn’t see where they were going. That’s us. We were all living in the darkness of sin, unable to see our way out, unable to find the path to eternal life, unable to even see the dangers that are all around us. We were not just living in physical darkness and ignorance, but we were living in the land of the shadow of death. In other words, we were on the path to eternal damnation, the place of eternal pitch-black darkness. This is much more serious than feeling a little lost in a dark house, or worrying about imaginary monsters hiding under our beds or wondering whether we’d be able to keep our jobs.

Where did this story begin? Where can one find this source of light? One would imagine the holy city of Jerusalem where the Temple of the Lord is located. Yet, Saint Matthew tells us that the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy begins elsewhere, “Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali! Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” Yes, the light would come to the religiously insignificant, spiritual backwater of Galilee in the North. To the Judaeans, with their zeal for the law, their obsession with purity and their expectation that God’s salvation would arrive in their land, Galilee was a spiritually dark, half-Gentile region. Despite the apparent obscurity of this place, in contrast to the capital and temple city of Jerusalem, Saint Matthew understands Jesus' Galilean ministry as the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah's ancient prophecy. In Isaiah’s vision, hope comes to the hopeless, light comes to those in darkness, to those at the back of beyond. You need to know the darkness before you can truly appreciate the light. Jerusalem, with its glorious Temple and the purity of its rituals and sacrifices, had too much light of its own to appreciate the great light that was dawning in that age. Only those who lived in the darkness of Galilee, could appreciate the brilliance of this light.

What is the effect of seeing and encountering that light? Well, the gospel tale of Christ calling the first disciples demonstrates this most vividly. The dawning light is quite infectious – it has a way of causing those who live in darkness to catch fire. Jesus is the light. He brings light wherever He goes. He chases away darkness wherever He goes. Those touched by His light become light. And so, we see how our Lord calls His first disciples and they follow Him without delay. He takes ordinary men and promises to transform these fishermen to fishers of men. The Apostles are not the only ones who are commissioned to proclaim the beauties and glories of the One who brought us out of darkness into the marvels of His light. Everyone who has been given eyes to see God’s glory, everyone who has been released from the bondage of sinful darkness, everyone who is bound to Christ by His supreme beauty and value is commissioned, as Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, “to preach the Good News and not to preach that in the terms of philosophy in which the crucified Christ cannot be expressed.” The light seeks to open the eyes of the heart to see and savour the beauty of Christ as our supreme treasure.

In other words, when the first disciples turned from darkness to the light, they cast aside all their worldly treasures and securities, they did not just turn to the light and find the light boring, or that they would turn to the Lord and find Him unsatisfying. If the light is boring and Christ is unsatisfying, you haven’t turned. The very turning to the light and the very turning to Christ means turning to the light as what it is: bright and beautiful and compelling and ravishing and satisfying. It means turning to Christ as who He is: your exceeding joy and your supreme treasure. This is what Saint Paul was describing when he said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

But we are not just called to become individual beacons; we are called into a community of lights for though our individual tiny flames may have little effect of illuminating the dark, the collective brightness of our lights will dispel the darkest gloom of the night. That is why Saint Paul in the second reading reminds the Corinthians of the utmost importance of securing the unity within the Church. Factions, divisions, quarrelling and hostility within the members of the Body of Christ will ultimately dim the light of the Church and compromise her ability to witness to Christ. But banded together in unity, the Church becomes a bright beacon in the world enveloped by the darkness of moral confusion and sin. She truly becomes a sacramental sign of the Kingdom of God in the world.

The secular world, despite its rejection of Christianity and being enamoured by the darkness, still has that same hope and anxiety for a Saviour. The problem is that the secular culture looks for fulfillment in sports, pleasure, money, and power. Sadly, a secular version of the Messiah misses His essence; it molds Him into our image and likeness, rather than recreating us in His. Jesus alone is the Light of Life – the Living Light. He is the only One who can effectively deal with any darkness in your life. Christianity proclaims: the long-awaited one is Jesus! He is the One True Light. Do not seek elsewhere. Everything we want is realised in Him.

We don’t need to live with the rose-coloured glasses of worldly optimism, pretending that things are better in this world than they really are. Life isn’t about denying that there is darkness, but rather about finding light in the midst of darkness. We are children of God in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. We see great darkness around us in the celebration of sectarian hostility, racial prejudice, rampant divorce, broken families, moral relativism, secularism, gender confusion, sexual sin and abortion. It would be easy to think that the darkness will overwhelm us. But if we have responded to the Lord’s call to follow Him, we will shine like lights even now, as we hold fast to the Word of life. So, whenever the darkness feels very real and overpowering, remember that Jesus Christ, the light of the world remains on the throne of Heaven, seated at God’s right hand. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not –will not – and will never - overcome it.