A long dark night has settled in over the Yukon at this time of year. Still, on my morning walk to work now with a waning crescent moon over my shoulder, the faintest glow of the yet long-off dawn can be made out over the high ridge of Grey Mountain to the southeast of downtown Whitehorse. Always even in the coldest and darkest times we hold on to the hope of the new dawn.
In the first reading Isaiah bemoans the loss of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrian Empire back some seven and a half centuries before the time of Jesus. Despair gripped this land caught in the aggressive march of the Assyrians out of what is now Iraq toward the Mediterranean Sea. Even in the face of the foreign invaders and the forced exile of thousands of Israelites from the fallen Northern Kingdom of Israel, Isaiah could still write, “people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who have lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shone.” What could the prophet see that allowed such hope and joy to illuminate the last verses of this passage?
Oppression would end. The land west of the Jordan River would become the Galilee we hear of in Matthew’s gospel. The “rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian,” proclaims a liberation that is to come. Gideon had used only 300 men to rout the much larger Midianite army. Would just a small united band of disciples gathered in Galilee bring hope and dispel the gloom for the broken and oppressed around the world and down through the ages?
Every one of us has experienced anguish and despair. Many possible causes could contribute to our personal pain. The death of a close friend or relative, an illness, economic distress, broken dreams or a failed marriage could be among the events weighing on our lives. Obviously many other causes could be added to this list of woes. A dark depression can weigh down our spirit as we suffer through difficult times that may seem unending.
A young man I know suffered silently for years. He tolerated an abusive situation for so long that it psychologically crippled him. Finally he broke free but what we now can understand as the effects of post traumatic stress left him hobbled. Counselling and a support community of friends and family have slowly over long months and years allowed him to see beyond the deep darkness that had enveloped him. Fear has given way to hope, oppression to a sense of possibility.
A light has shone on him as it can shine on all of us in the time of our greatest need. As the psalmist writes, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear.”
How can we assure others in their times of darkness to let their hearts take courage as they “wait for the Lord” and light in their lives will be restored?
Paul in the second reading tells us of the rivalries and discord that threatened to split the emerging Christian community in the years following Jesus’ death. “I belong to Apollos.” “I belong to Cephas.” Who offered the true path? The eloquence of Apollos, or the personal loyalty Cephas or Peter commands from the Jewish community in Corinth shouldn’t divide them. Paul sees the power of God radiating through the words of the Gospel and bringing good to all.
We are collectively faced with a myriad of global problems today. These range from the consequences of extreme weather triggered by global warming to the epidemic violence flowing from the gross disparity in the distribution of wealth and power on our planet. A cacophony of competing voices all offering solutions pull us in different directions. Where does hope lay?
In the Gospel of Matthew a passage from the first reading of Isaiah is repeated. John has been arrested. Jesus withdrew to Capernaum. Matthew sees Isaiah’s prophetic words fulfilled as Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee proclaiming, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
It is among the marginal, the gentiles, far from influence and prestige of Jerusalem that Jesus begins his ministry. He calls out, “Come follow me.” Peter, Andrew together with James and John, the Zebedee brothers, all simple fishermen, do just that. His invitation immediately turns their lives upside down.
With them Jesus goes throughout Galilee proclaiming “the good news of the kingdom” by curing “every disease and every sickness among the people.” He doesn’t raise an army to throw out the Roman occupiers. He doesn’t miraculously build a Third Temple with restored tablets of the law or the lost Ark of the Covenant. He walks among the people tending to their most basic needs.
How can we bring this light to the world? Feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, ransom the captive, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. In today’s world what other acts we can add? Heal the environment, share our wealth and end war? We don’t individually have to do everything, but together as a faith community we do. Simply we must do what Jesus did. If we can act on these callings and more, the light of the Lord will indeed shine in our world.
Dougherty is co-chair of the Social Justice Committee at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse, Yukon.