People in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light Reply

Reflection for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“Dark to Light” Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Jan 25, 2020 — Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Photo taken by Alison Stone

And God said, “Let there be light,”
and there was light.
God saw that the light was good,
and he separated the light from the darkness.

When I teach Sacred Scripture to high school students, I like to have them draw the ‘Six Days of Creation’ as I read aloud from Genesis 1. I tell them to divide their paper into six boxes, like a comic strip, and then draw what they hear while I read. As they continue to draw, I read the account for each day two or three times before proceeding to the next day, so as to give them time to illustrate each section. When I get to ‘Day Four’ I read the following:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Then I ask, “Who drew the sun on ‘Day One’?”

Almost everyone raises their hand, looking utterly perplexed, trying to figure out what went wrong. I reassure them that they made no mistake; they drew what they heard, like I asked them to do. When they heard the words “Let there be light,” they envisioned the biggest source of light they’ve ever known, the sun, and they drew it. That would be the natural thing to do. It’s just that what they imagined when they heard the words I read aloud was not exactly what the sacred author had in mind when he envisioned it.

So what did the sacred author have in mind? What did he envision?

Try doing it yourself. Read the first chapter of Genesis and then ask yourself: what does the poetic repetition of darkness and light, night and day, evening and morning represent?

Have you noticed the imagery of “light in the darkness” recurring in the liturgy over the past few weeks? The light and dark motif continues into the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the Responsorial Psalm, we repeat, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” St. Matthew’s Gospel reiterates the words of the Prophet Isaiah from the First Reading:

The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.

The Prophet Isaiah lived in dark times. The Kingdom of David and Solomon had long been divided into two rival kingdoms, with Israel to the North, Judah to the South. Isaiah, a prophet of Judah, appears on the scene around the time when the Assyrians overtook the northern Kingdom of Israel and carted its citizens off in chains. Cut off from their Judean kinsmen, a scant remnant was left behind, forgotten in the far removed region of Galilee, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, as the Prophet who was around to witness these events, testifies:

“First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali…”

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See how the Land of Naphtali boarders the Sea of Galilee where Jesus called his first Apostles and began his public ministry.

Isaiah is not merely a prophet of doom, however. His message continues as a message of hope. In a broader context, Isaiah’s proclamation is directed toward the southern Kingdom of Judah, who is terrified that the Assyrian Empire might take over their land just as easily as it had decimated their cousins to the north. Isaiah assures the Judeans that God will not allow that to happen – not because Judah deserves to be spared, but because God has a plan to bring light out of darkness.

Isaiah continues to prophesy that Judah will eventually fall to the Babylonians, on account of their failing to turn back to God after witnessing the tragic end of the Northern Kingdom. Dark times are still to come. Yet there’s hope! The prophecy continues:

…But in the end he has glorified the seaward road,
the land west of the Jordan,
the District of the Gentiles.
Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing.

The application of Isaiah’s hopeful prophecy is three-fold. First, it refers to the restoration of Israel after the return from the Babylonian exile – the impossible dream that happier times would return to the forgotten lands of the North. Second, it refers to the beginning of Jesus of Nazareth’s public ministry and calling his first Apostle’s in Galilee (recall the Apostle Nathanial’s reaction: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”). In today’s Gospel, Matthew tells us that Christ announces the Coming of the Kingdom immediately after receiving the dark news of his cousin John’s imprisonment that would end with his being beheaded.

Third, it refers to us today. How ought we apply God’s word to our lives? As I write these words, I’m on a bus ride home from the March for Life in Washington, DC. My wife Alison and I, who are both teachers at Pinecrest Academy in Cumming, GA, were chaperones this week for our Junior class trip to our Nation’s Capital, to stand for life, and give our voice to the unprotected unborn, along with 40 of our students, and somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 other men, women, and mostly young people from across America.

We don’t always see it, but it’s good to know that Christ’s light shines brightly in our world today. When we do get a chance to see it, we must remember to give thanks and praise to God, and spread the Good News. As Christ taught, at the beginning of his public ministry, during the Sermon on the Mount: YOU are the light of the world!

I hope to share some of the highlights of our Pro Life Pilgrimage on Biltrix this week, after I get home and get some rest. To wrap up this week’s liturgical reflection, I want to leave you with this short prayer, that the Light of Christ may shine in your life, as a guiding light of hope for others. In those moments, when you feel lost, insignificant, forgotten, may you recall the presence of God that resides in you, that even in those times – perhaps especially in those times – God is working in and through you. Let your light shine!

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“Light Shines in the Darkness, and the Darkness Does Not Comprehend It,” Washington Monument at night over the Potomac, photo taken by Alison Stone

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