3rd Sunday of Epiphany
Isaiah 9 1-4
Psalm 27.1, 4-14 or 1-11
1 Corinthians 1.10-18
Matthew 4. 12-23
Last Monday lots of news channels made a great deal of the fact that the 16th January is 'Blue Monday'. Back in 2004 a travel company came up with a very successful ploy for selling holidays; they commissioned a psychologist to identify the bleakest day in the year, presumably because that was a good day to sell holidays to sunny places. He came up with a very dubious formula, based on a combination of when the weather was worst, when peoples' post-Christmas debt was greatest and when guilt over lapsed new year resolutions was heaviest, and reasoned that the day on which all these things came together was the 16th of January. This totally unscientific formula seems to strike a chord every year with lots of people, some of whom may be affected by something called seasonal affective disorder or SAD, where the lack of daylight at this time of year can bring with it feelings of depression and low morale. This year, with strikes and the rising cost of food and energy, those feelings are particularly acute for many people. I thought about Blue Monday and seasonal affective disorder when I read today's readings from Isaiah and Matthew, with their references to the people who walked in darkness, because today's readings tackle all our many forms of darkness head on, and in doing so help us to understand how we can find a way of coming through that darkness and into a place where we can perhaps begin to share the reassurance that the psalmist feels when he cries 'The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?'.
When we hear about enemies in the psalms they don't always need to be seen as real people; those enemies can be our own darkest thoughts and fears, enemies to our peace of mind, the fears and worries that come to us at two in the morning when the night is darkest. Those times when we ourselves feel like a people walking in darkness. For the psalmist the darkest times are also those when he draws most deeply on his relationship with God, a relationship which is built on faith and expressed through prayer. It's a form of seeking that never stops;
'Come my heart says, seek his face!
Your face Lord, do I seek.'
So, this is one way we can begin to find our way through the darkness; trying like the psalmist to constantly work at coming closer to God in our thoughts and prayers, giving more time to allowing that relationship to grow and develop. Psalms like Psalm 27 are there to give us the words we need when we can't find our own to express the immensity of our struggles; they enable us to lift our heads up and look ahead to the coming of the light. Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus is that light, the fulfilment of the Prophecy in Isaiah. Matthew makes us aware of the reality of Jesus's presence in the world; everything that happens in today's Gospel is rooted in real places, Galilee, Nazareth, Zebulun, and Naphtali, as if to help us to understand that the light of Jesus 'coming is present in the world as it is, and not something for the future.
Along with the names of places Matthew and Paul seem very aware of the names of individual people; Jesus knows and calls each fisherman by his name and Paul addresses the Christians in Corinth by name as well: Chloe, Apoloos, Cephas, Stephanas and his household. In this week of Christian unity, it's helpful to hear Paul call to us to be in agreement, 'there should be no divisions among you, 'he says, because our purpose as the people of God is greater than that'. Paul says this greater purpose is to share our knowledge and understanding of God in Jesus, however incomplete it may be, with the rest of the world. Perhaps through today's readings we're also being invited to hear our own names being called as witnesses to this light; to understand that the calling out of darkness into the light of God's loving presence is for each of us individually as much as it was for James and John, Simon Peter and Andrew.
The darkness we need to overcome can take many forms- for Paul the darkness in Corinth is quarrels about self-importance and misunderstanding. For the psalmist it's evildoers assailing him in order, as he puts it to 'devour his flesh'. Paul offers a way forward for us all as Christians, the message of the cross; he explains that this message is foolishness to the world at large because it means letting go of all the ego-driven rivalries and competition that cause division and conflict. In Matthew's story of the first disciples leaving their nets he shows us a group of friends who do precisely this; they put their own selves, their own livelihoods, second, and give up everything to follow Jesus. They don't hang back; they respond immediately. Jesus calls them out of their safe and everyday routine. They're not to stay entangled in their nets, they're to step out of the everyday and follow him.
Today's readings help us to see that we too can follow the example of those early Christian communities by letting go of our rivalries and all the metaphorical nets that entangle us every day, joining together in sharing the gospel with the rest of the world. Today's readings tell us that the many forms of darkness we encounter every day can be dispelled once we begin to see with the psalmist how 'the Lord is our light' and hear ourselves called by name just like the earliest disciples. Then we will know that God through Jesus offers us something infinitely better than a holiday in the sun as a way of combatting our darkness, not just on Blue Monday, but every day.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,