Matthew 4.12-17, 23-25
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
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 people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
We have reflected upon and celebrated the birth of Jesus and, yesterday, we recalled and gave thanks for the moment when the Good News of the Incarnation was revealed to the wider world. Today we see Jesus beginning his adult ministry.
At this time of year I often wonder what it must have felt like for the shepherds and the wise men, even for Joseph and Mary. From the moment of the Annunciation things were changed. The appearance of angels and a prophetic star in the sky began a chain of events that was destined to change the world. Ancient prophecies were being fulfilled and a totally different future was being opened up for the whole of humanity, for ever. That door on the future was opened to a humble Jewish craftsman and his teenage wife, to lowly isolated shepherds, and to wise travellers from distant lands. In response to the revelation that had been shared with such a disparate and unlikely group of people, the shepherds were heard to praise and glorify God, while the wise men took tales of their experiences much further abroad. But … then what …?
After the fanfares of the angels, the leading of that special star and the presenting of symbolic and prophesied gifts … all was silent. For thirty years all was silent. We know from our reading of scripture that Joseph and Mary saw the child grow, become strong and filled with wisdom, as well as seeing that the favour of God was indeed upon him. But … for those first witnesses of the Incarnation … all was silent.
In today’s reading we hear of the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry … some thirty years after his birth. In the first century, thirty years was not that far short of the average working man’s lifespan. Even today it is considered to be more than a generation. Thirty years was a long time to wait for that special baby to reveal his true identity. We struggle to remain convinced, hopeful and optimistic for more than a couple of days. It is not difficult to see how negativity could have grown in the hearts of those who witnessed Jesus’ birth. They may not have know what to expect, but they must have expected something!
It is easier for us to be firm in our faith because we can look back at the whole narrative. Not so for those shepherds and wise men. But … we do not always hold firm, do we? Throughout 2020 I heard the faith of many being questioned. But … there was good news too. Through the necessary re-sculpting of prayer and worship, many came to realize just how the presence of God manifests itself in our troubled and divided world. Even when we were compelled to close our churches, many made the journey of the shepherds and the wise men to gaze on the unlimited love of God.
Let us pray that our personal glimpses of God’s love might not fade as we step further and further into 2021.