In the daily Lectionary this week, the last of the Christmas season, we get a few snapshots of Jesus’ early ministry. Except for the account of finding the boy Jesus in the Temple, we have nothing of the Savior’s earthly life between the Magi and the Baptism in the Jordan.
Still, this week’s gospels start off with a clear message: the Lord is here; get ready!
Today’s gospel passage includes one of the Scriptures from the Rite of Penance (RP177), Matthew 4:12-17. here is the passage, which includes one of the Isaian prophecies heard on Christmas:
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness
have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Scripture scholars likely have a lot of rich things to say about this. I would like to confine my commentary to three points, which correspond to the three parts of this reading.
First, Jesus hears of the arrest of his cousin John. His reaction is to withdraw to Galilee, thus fulfilling a prophecy. I don’t think that usual human reactions to news events are hardly ever fulfillments of prophecy. But we can acknowledge that unrelated events in our surroundings “move” us to new places. We look at things from a different viewpoint. And I think it is vital for a believer to keep eyes wide open when we are on the move.
Jesus in moving to be with people who are in the darkness. Perhaps we get a glimmer of something in our lives. Do we move toward the light? Do we shy away from it? Whether our instinct is one of curiosity or of concern, it is important to realize that Jesus is the one who cal deliver us from darkness. In this deliverance, we gradually come to see aspects of our lives. And in so doing, we might become moved to do something about these aspects.
When Jesus preaches, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he is telling the penitent that change is good. He is telling the penitent a new authority is available, one of the light, and not of the darkness. The Kingdom is about self-awareness, self-recognition, and setting aside the things of darkness, and doing things in the full light of day.
Light is a grand theme of the Christmas season. And it’s not just about a star shining on an infant boy 2,000 years ago. It’s not about the glow in the hay, or even in our home trees, roofs, and front yards. The important light of Christmas is the one in which we acknowledge the “Great Light” of our lives. Sins, too, will be brought into full view. But we have no reason to fear, because a new Kingdom is at hand. Jesus has come for us. That is for us. Not against us. The Incarnation and the Nativity was an act of God for people, not to call attention to God in glory. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking about a stable in a peripheral province of a mighty empire. We would be talking about a Savior born in the capital city of Rome or China or another of the world’s great empires.
Jesus coming in the flesh is not so much about him as it is about his rescue and redemption of a people stranded in darkness.