Jesus Abides Here
Isaiah in a Spirit-inspired prophecy writes: "The people who sat in darnkness have seen a great light ..." As Jesus' ministry begins in Galilee this prophecy is fulfilled. The light of God's presence has once again risen on the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, a land once synonymous with God-forsakenness. The light of God's grace once more shines in this area that has been given over to the nations. Now, the nations themselves will be saved by the grace of the God who created and rules over all, and who once again is abiding, dwelling and residing in the land.
Notice the return to prosperity Isaiah envisions; note the joy overflowing as the oppressor is defeated and despoiled; pay attention to Isaiah’s vision of a village, a city, a region and a nation truly blessed and favored by God when God remembers God’s promises and God’s kingdom comes near. It is a turn of events so truly spectacular that it ought change our hearts and minds about everything we know about ourselves, our world and even God.
Look again at the Isaiah prophecy (Isaiah 9:1-4). Summon to your imagination all of your ideas and dreams and visions for a life of abundance and prosperity; peace and joy; God’s favor and gracious providence and presence. What do you see? What is life like for the people of those towns and villages; cities and regions; so favored as to be blessed to the house and home of God? What do you see?
Do you see this glorious light in the figure of solitary man making his way on foot, traveling from southeast to northwest to return to his hometown, collect his things and move into a fishing village on the other side of the lake? All along the way, can you hear him preach — “repent … turn around, change your hearts and minds … for the kingdom of heaven is coming near to you”? Do you see this man, walking the shore, inviting four simple fisherfolk to change their lives by leaving their nets and apprenticing to Jesus? Do you see Jesus traveling throughout the region, teaching and preaching in synagogues and healing everyone of their affliction so that his fame rises and with new hope and new faith in God for a better future the most vulnerable come to him for new life?
It is not the conquest of a warrior-king; It is not the prosperity of trade or business; It is not the peace that comes when our military has its foot to the throat of our enemies or when we have wiped or enemies from the face of the earth that fulfills Isaiah’s Spirit-inspired prophecy, but it is the coming of Jesus with a call to repentance and disciples, with a ministry of good news and healing, that fills up the full measure of Isaiah’s prophecy. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light because Jesus has come to them in love, in mercy, in generosity that transforms hearts and minds and heals the infirmity of our original sin — our self-confident and arrogant hope in our own vision of power and potential.
The light of God that dawns in a once Godforsaken place and extends to every nation on this earth looks like this: Jesus, disciples, a simple home base in a fishing village and a ministry of preaching good news and healing. It is to that ministry and to that vision of blessing and hope to which we have been apprenticed when were pulled from the waters of our baptism and declared the children of God for the sake Jesus.
There is an urgency to Jesus’ call to disciple after him, to come to him and learn from him, to apply ourselves to knowing the ways of God in this world. There is an immediacy in the response of his disciples, who repent without delay by leaving everything behind to follow Jesus in this new life … and then to return to the world as changed, transformed and yet somehow the same … and yet different.
Emerging from our baptism by the grace of God we return to God’s creation and to lives that look every bit the same as those around us. We have died with Christ and been raised with Christ, but we continue to live an ordinary life in an ordinary way. We go to school. We go to work. We apply ourselves to this endeavor or that endeavor in our retirement. We eat and drink. We sleep and rise. We suffer and rejoice … like everyone else. Yet, as disciples, a followers, as apprentices to the master, Jesus, we have left everything that was ours … to receive it back as a gift, a calling, a mission and purpose. By God’s grace, you are now part of the story of the rising light of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. To live to the witness of Christ to the glory of God the Father is our single purpose.
By God’s grace we have been saved through faith in Jesus … and in this new life we, in all we say and do seek to glorify God and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
This time of year we re-organize and re-commit ourselves to the ministry that we have been entrusted with by Christ, and we seek God’s empowering Spirit, wisdom, help and guidance as we plan the ministries of this congregation, and as we make plans to put into use, the gifts we have shared from God’s abundance. This Gospel may even help us visualize and imagine this ministry to keep us faithful to God’s purposes.
We are told first that this is the message of God’s Son, the Christ — Jesus: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” This message comes to us in Jesus’ presence, in his word and in his actions, and it is a message of peace and the promise of God’s grace, not a threat of punishment or rejection.
Next we hear that Jesus establishes a home in this village, and from that home he goes out to gather disciples, people who will follow him, and learn from him, and one day bear witness to the good news and the kingdom of heaven.
Finally, from that home base, Jesus moves out into the various villages and neighborhoods in the region with a ministry that announces good news, that proclaims God’s grace and mercy, and heals and cures the sick and diseased.
We confess and believe, we trust and hope ... that Jesus is present in this congregation. In Word and Sacrament, Spirit-inspired word and actions of the people of this community. In us and through us the light of the Christ also shines in the Edison-Metuchen region ... Here our worship center is a center for good news and healing … but so are the many Christ-centered households of this congregation, dispersed into the various neighborhoods we call home. Your household is a ministry-center. Your office or workshop or workplace is a ministry-center. The diner where you gather to discuss the events of the day … is a ministry center where we can most certainly teach and do the good news and bring healing to our neighbors. When we are sent from this place, we are sent to follow Christ into the world of our ordinary lives with a ministry that brings good news and healing for all. We follow Jesus into worship … so that we might be strengthened and equipped to follow Jesus out into life.
What will we do this afternoon? Whatever we do … do it for the glory of God. Do it as a witness to the nearness of God’s kingdom.
What will we do tomorrow? Whatever we do … do it for the glory of God. Do it as a witness to God’s kingdom … right here; right now.
And then … then we will be have a new and radiant vision of the glorious light of God’s grace breaking out in peace and healing, love and joy wherever God is present, and a Godforsaken and forgotten people will finally hear and see some good news … in Jesus name. Amen.
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