going to enter into the Bible’s metaphors today about darkness and
light, but before I can do so, I need to differentiate Biblical times
from current times. In particular, today metaphors of light and
darkness reinforce racial stereotypes with claims that light skin
tones are related to lightness which are related to goodness while
dark skin tones are related to darkness which are related to badness.
These correlations are false and harmful, yet they are significant
in our society and have to be named.
Bible, however, isn’t racist. There are a whole lot of problems with
the Bible and I’d be happy to list them with you in a personal
conversation, but racism actually isn’t one of them, because racism
was created well AFTER the Bible was completed. Any claims of the
Bible supporting racism are, inherently, false.
the Bible is talking about light and darkness I think it is fair to
assume it is talking about light like sunlight and darkness like
cloud covered nights. It is probably worth remembering that electric
lights are also a feature of modernity that the Bible lacked, and so
light and dark were more constant and impermeable features of life
during Biblical times.
we’re going to talk about light and darkness, and I’m going to follow
the Bible’s lead in acknowledging that humans yearn for light. But I
want to be very clear that we are talking about lumens and not skin
tone. After all, none of the people in the Bible were white.
course, there are many positive traits of darkness. Since reading
about the “Dark Night of the Soul,” I’ve been entirely convinced
that darkness is a gift to us. A “Dark Night of the Soul” is a
time of discombobulation, and/or confusion, and/or grief – when the
faith a person has doesn’t work anymore and the faith a person will
have isn’t there yet. It has been described as womb-like, when the
framework of understanding the world, and God, and even one’s self
collapses and then in silence and darkness takes on a new form. The
new form doesn’t come into the light until it is ready. Many
Christians have been through Dark Nights of the Soul, some have been
through multiple. It is a normal and important part of faith, even
if it is profoundly uncomfortable and can be scary.
it isn’t that darkness is bad, darkness is an important part of the
journey. However, after a time of darkness, light is a precious
is talking about an experience of light after a prolonged darkness.
He is talking about dawn breaking after a particularly long night.
Isaiah is talking about a dark night of the soul for the whole
community, the whole nation of Ancient Israel, when everything they
had known and depended on was overturned… and then what would
the gloom, after journeying in the darkness, after living without
light or hope, the light dawns. The sense of isolation from God and
each other lifts. The fear and hopelessness that have permeated life
dissipate. The heaviness of grief grows lighter. Things start to
make a little bit of sense again, in a new way.
place of that heaviness, there is JOY. The things that were dragging
the people down are broken, and they are able to stand tall and move
freely. Hope and light abound.
narrative of Isaiah, and indeed of the entirety of the Hebrew Bible
is that bad things may come – and do – but they’re never the
final word. The people are enslaved in Egypt, but God sets them
free. The people are lost, wandering in the desert, but God shows
them the way home. The people are oppressed under their own kings,
but God sends prophets to restore justice. The people are taken back
into captivity in the exile, but God sets them free again. The
people are oppressed by large empires, but God works towards freedom
time and time again.
the darkness, comes, says the Bible. But the light comes too. The
darkness is never the final word.
decided to use this passage from Isaiah to explain Jesus. In fact,
he uses it to INTRODUCE the theme of Jesus’ ministry, which was his
teaching of “Repent and believe, for the kin(g)dom of heaven has
come near.” That is, Jesus was part of God’s work of the light
dawning yet again. Furthermore, the light and the kin(g)dom are
sometimes shy away from the word “repent” because of the ways it
has been misused around us, but the word itself is just fine. It can
be understood as “expressing regret or remorse about one’s
or more traditionally to Christianity, as “apologizing AND changing
couse so the harmful action isn’t repeated.” My friend the Rev.
Dr. Barbara Throrington Green says that to repent is to realize that
you are headed in the wrong direction, to look around to figure out
where God is looking, and then to reorient yourself to look in the
same direction God is looking. That’s my favorite definition.
sometimes if I really understand Jesus’ message yet. It always feels
like a work in progress. “Repent and believe, for the kin(g)dom of
heaven has come near.” I think this is an invitation to leave
fear, hopelessness, and isolation behind and to join with Jesus in
the work of the kin(g)dom – which is work done in community, for
the well-being of all, in faith that with God’s help the kin(g)dom
will come. But I also think it is about letting go of the things “of
the world” that do harm in order to make space for the things “of
the kin(g)dom” and that is much harder to sort out. There is a
big, long-standing question in Christianity about what our
relationship is to be with “the world.” Do we stand against it?
Do we ignore it? Do we recognize it’s gifts? Do we think of it as
sacred? Do we call it into more wholeness? Do we accept it as it
that ends up really mattering. How much do we reject? How much do
we celebrate? Why? How do we even figure out what things are of the
world and what things are of the kin(g)dom when we ourselves are in
both and most people we know are too? Purism doesn’t happen much in
real life. I think some of the things “of the world” are
competition, tribalism, greed, pulling ourselves up by pushing others
down, and violence. Yet, I’ve definitely seen those things in the
church too! I want to think of the things of the kin(g)dom as being
about the common good, shared resources, the full humanity of all
people, spirituality, holistic well-being, peace, hope, and joy.
Yet, in reality there aren’t clear lines between the two, or at least
not as clear as I’d like most of the time.
worries me, because if I’m supposed to “repent and believe” and
I’m still not entirely clear on what I’m repenting of or believing
in, maybe I’m not helping much in the building of the kin(g)dom, even
though I really, really want to.
Matthew passage is power packed. It claims and then reframes
Isaiah’s dawning light, it offers Jesus’ ministry and its key ideas,
it includes the calling of the disciples, and then it describes the
work of Jesus during his ministry, “Jesus went throughout Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the
kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the
doesn’t have to have a particularly good sense of where to draw the
line or how to understand the kindom. Perhaps in the thin light of a
new dawn , one is only able to see a little bit, and yet that little
bit of light is enough to guide you safely one step at a time.
really have to have it all figured out – no one does, and no one
ever has. But there is a need to trust God, and trust ourselves, and
trust each other, so that we can take a little bit of light and let
it lead us.
deep goodness in the darkness, and I hope we’ve savored its lessons.
May we prepare ourselves for light dawning, and to take tentative
steps in the early morning light, moving as well as we can toward the
Rev. Sara E. Baron
First United Methodist Church of Schenectady
603 State St. Schenectady, NY 12305
January 26, 2020