So last week I asked you to begin thinking about the pains, sorrows, and hurts – that have broken your heart. I have invited you to generically write them on the hearts in the gathering space and leave them in the box – so we can begin to invite Christ healing power into them through our prayer.
So what is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?
I think that’s a tough question --NOT because we can’t remember –because unfortunately it is the bad things in our lives that we tend to hold onto – they are hard to forget.
No, I think it’s a tough question because in calling that person or event or situation to mind – it can just be painful to think about – we can be re-victimized in rehashing it – it can bring back feelings of embarrassment or fear or dread or despair ---- so we usually choose not to think about it --- so we stuff it down deep within our hearts and minds.
But we have to name it – in order to heal it. Otherwise it just sits there and festers. We must first diagnose before we treat. . .
So, what’s the worst thing that has ever happened in your life??
For ancient people, those who lived in Old Testament times -- their WORST experience was sometimes a famine or some kind of natural disaster.
Sometimes it was a plague or disease that struck their cities and killed their loved ones.
But more often than not, the WORST thing to happen to people was at the hands of others, through some sort of aggression – which is still the case for many of us today.
The Jewish people were no exception. In the time of Jesus the aggression was by the Romans occupying their homeland.
Very early in their history there was their bondage of the Jews in Egypt.
Later, there was their two-generation exile in Babylonia.
And sandwiched right in-between these last two was a terrible event in the life of the Jewish people – an event hinted at in both the First reading and the Gospel – it was the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
As you probably know, if by no other way than Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream coat ---- the Jewish people were organized into twelve tribes – named for each of the 12 children of Jacob.
Each tribe had its own territory – and when the Assyrians stormed into Palestine – they essentially wiped out the ten tribes in the northern kingdom – which we often times refer to as the “lost” tribes of Israel.
It’s easy to see how this would have impacted those two tribes who remained in the south, in what was called the kingdom of Judah – just imagine how we would feel if over forty of the United States no longer existed – except as the possessions of a foreign country. . .
And so when the prophet Isaiah mentions two of the conquered tribes in his writing today: Zebulun and Naphtali --- it would have immediately struck a painful chord in the hearts of his listeners.
It would have resurfaced all those pains and hurts that had been stuffed down deep within the consciousness of the Jews.
Put simply, this was a really bad time for Israel as a nation. Their very survival was in question.
And so what does the Prophet Isaiah say to them? Did he ask them just to stew in their gloom and doom? Did he talk about the horror of it all and what a terrible, unforgettable experience it was??
NO – Isaiah says:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. . . You, God, have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing.”
The people Isaiah was speaking to would probably have thought “what the heck is he talking about??” Because for them it was all darkness, it was all sadness, grief and fear. . . and there was no light on any horizon for them.
Their world seemed to be coming completely undone.
So what did Isaiah see that they did not see?
What exactly was this “great light” they were supposed to place their hope in? And why this call to optimism?
Again – think about what is the worst thing that’s ever happened in your life? In the life of this parish? Within the Church? Was there, or is there still – no light on the horizon??
Of course, we look back with a certain kind of focused hindsight, and we see in the words of Isaiah a prediction of the birth of Jesus Christ – a distant glimmer of hope being placed in the hearts of the Jewish people that one day things would get better.
One day they would thrive again.
One day someone would come who would make everything right, someone who would save them from all who wanted to do them harm,
someone who would come and restore them as a people called by God to be holy. Someone to heal their broken hearts. . .
And of course we have confirmation of this through the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel in which he invokes this very passage of Isaiah to refer to himself: “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death – light has arisen.”
And although we like to think about this prophecy in a strictly historical context – it’s important to remember that this “great light” –
the person of Jesus – does NOT only dispel the darkness of this world in a general sense,
or only brought light into the world at the time he lived ---- but also Christ has the power to dispel the darkness in every human heart and every human life: Christ has the power to dispel the sorrow, the pain, the disappointments, the fears, the despair ---- of all people, at all times, and in all circumstances: the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light!!!
“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark – you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off the train. You sit still – and trust the engineer.”
And so what is the worst thing that has ever happened in your life – in the life of this parish – within the Church??
Whatever it is or was – it isn’t the end of the story – no matter how painful it may be or may have been – God can always bring something new out of our toughest times.
Even the deepest darkness will ultimately disappear in the face of the love of God, the saving acts of the Son, and the transforming power of the Spirit. God’s love is just that strong.
And so let’s be determined to come out of the other side of the dark tunnel – and let the light of Christ shine upon us – shine upon our parish – upon our Church – and upon our world: so we can be the evangelists God is calling us to be!
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