CS Lewis once wrote: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” This Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah proclaims another world – a world in which distress has turned into joy, and the darkness has been pierced by a brilliant light.
“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.” (Isaiah 8:24)
Winter has arrived in the northern hemisphere, and it seems as if we live in a land of gloom and cold as we collectively long for the warmth of the light. Light symbolizes life, happiness and the Holy Spirit as opposed to the death, misery, and error of darkness. In the lives of many there is also darkness, especially for those suffering from mental, physical, and spiritual distress due to loss, depression, illness, or injustice.
During the past few years, the global pandemic has exacerbated the physical and mental load already affecting marginalized communities, leaving more and more people vulnerable to the effects of disease, racism, unjust discrimination, and economic exploitation. It is easy to hear this prophecy from Isaiah and wonder if this other world is even possible, and whether our suffering will ever transform into abundant joy.
The Israelites in Isaiah’s time were living under Assyrian occupation. Isaiah’s prophecy was a political and social revolution against that empire as he ushered in a vision of a new world in which justice and peace would prevail. We can imagine what it must have felt like for the subjugated people to hear that the “yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster [God] has smashed.” (Isaiah 9:3). Could they imagine this new world for which they were made? Could they see the light of freedom, even if only for a moment?
In our gospel reading, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ proclaimed the prophecy of Isaiah to the Jewish brethren who were living and dying under the oppression of the tyrannical Roman empire. This was shortly after his cousin John had been arrested for his radical ministry. Jesus’ teaching that light would conquer the darkness and that life would overcome death served as an audacious message of hope and liberation for people who were suffering at the hands of the empire. This vision represents the inbreaking of the kingdom of God into our world. In the Kingdom, all of creation participates in building a world of love, justice, forgiveness, and peace. Jesus preached that this new world was not only possible, but it is already begun; the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
In our own times, vulnerable people in our communities are also living and dying under oppression and unjust governance. The cry of the poor echo in our streets, the cries of the marginalized ring in our ears. A mother, struggling to make ends meet, unable to provide for her child the very medicine they need to survive. A family, trapped in the cycle of poverty, their dreams and aspirations forever out of reach. A child, innocent and pure, caught in the crossfire of violence and hatred. Yes, many of us live in anguish and “walk in darkness” each day.
In the light of our Christian faith, we believe that another world is possible. Our Christian faith provides us with the inconceivable hope that there is always light that will pierce the darkness, and that another world is already coming, and indeed is already here. This other world, already in the process of being, is one where love triumphs over fear, and where justice prevails. We are privileged to catch glimpses of this kingdom through the actions of those who strive towards righteousness, such as the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who envisioned a world where poverty, hunger and hate are no more, a world he referred to as the beloved community.
The Holy Gospel of St. Matthew presents Jesus as the brilliant light bestowed upon us by the Father, to dispel the darkness that enveloped the earth, in the regions of Zebulon and Naphtali, and all where the shadows were most dense. This divine light also resides within each of us, granting us the fortitude to strive for justice each day, and to labor towards a vision that others may deem unattainable. On the day of our baptism, we were gifted with a candle lit from the Easter Candle, emblematic of Christ, the light of the world. We have no choice but to carry that light forward into the dark places. God is an active in the world, working within the lives of those who suffer. We can be assured that the new world is not only possible, but already present amongst us.
Let us bravely step into the light and, together, be about liberating others and ourselves from the oppression of darkness. As we draw closer to the light, the prophetic words of Isaiah and the teaching of Jesus will embolden us to work toward bringing another world, one of healing, justice, and peace, into being.
Is this not what the Kingdom of God is all about?