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2024-01-21 Epiphany 3

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Light in the darkness! You know exactly how comforting and amazing and necessary light is when it’s dark. A power outage is one thing. If you’re at home, you pretty much know the layout of the house, you can generally get around. But if you’re someplace different and foreign, not so much. Think about camping. You’re out enjoying the beauty of God’s creation and all of a sudden a storm brews up. Power is out and you go scurrying to the cupboard to get the flashlight. You find out that its not in the cupboard where it belongs, but rather, behold! The kids were playing with it and left it on all day and the batteries, they are now graveyard dead! Now the hunt is on trying to find replacement batteries, tripping and falling in the camper, stubbing your toe and wanting to sell whichever kid is responsible for this to the gypsies! We’ve all been there at one time or another.

Light and darkness really is a strong Biblical theme. As you read and study the Word, you quickly see that sin, iniquity and death are all portrayed as darkness while oppositely, forgiveness, virtue and life are portrayed as light. The way that God reveals Himself and His will to the world is just like the sun coming up on the horizon, illuminating the landscape of darkness. Jesus is the Light of the World and John the Baptist bore witness about the light. St. John wrote in his Gospel “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (JN 3:19). So we see this stark contrast between God and people. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1JN 1:5) but people love the darkness. In our sin and evil nature, deep down, we like iniquity. And when it goes unchecked and unrepentant, the whole of society starts getting darker and darker.

Such had become the case for a giant ancient city called Nineveh. It was a super-city, like Vancouver or Toronto, big ones that keep on expanding and gobbling up the towns and villages on its outskirts. Nineveh was enormous! In fact, it held the title of “World’s Largest City” for 50 years. It had 100 foot walls, and 1500 towers – each 200’ tall. It was located near modern day Mosul in northern Iraq. And, it had a fairly notorious reputation. More notorious than Moose Jaw even! They had a habit of taking their conquered enemies and flaying off their skins and hanging them on the city walls! No doubt it had a bustling tourist industry!

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah saying “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” Go to Nineveh, that great and notorious city. Go there, alone and unarmed. Don’t hire the A-Team. Don’t wear the bullet proof vest. Go to that city and tell all of those notorious inhabitants to repent and believe in the one true and living God! And Jonah, being of sound mind and body said “Sure thing Lord! Here I am, send me, send me!” And if you believe that, I’ve got some ocean front property in Pheasant Rump Saskatchewan to sell you!

Of course Jonah doesn’t go! It’s a suicide mission! Them thar Ninevites, they’re crazy! They kill everyone around them – painfully! It’s a city of death, darkness and despair! “Ain’t no way in Sheol I’m goin’ there!” Jonah says and off he goes in the opposite direction. But a quick swim in the sea and marinating in the belly of a big bad fish for three days has a way of changing a guy’s mind in a hurry.

Can you really blame Jonah for his initial knee jerk reaction? I feel the same way about going to Winnipeg that Jonah did about Nineveh! But Jonah didn’t have to put up with bedbugs in Nineveh! Not so for Winnipeg…But we do have loads in common with Jonah, more than we’d probably like to admit. First of all, we love to judge other people. We love to think about how terrible “those people are” rather than reflecting on ourselves and our own iniquity. We’d much rather gossip about other people than to share the good news of the Gospel with them. It’s fallen human nature not to love other people enough to try to help them. Jonah looked down upon the Ninevites, certainly because their iniquity was great, but also because they were gentile heathen. “They aren’t like me.” It’s obvious that God’s compassion can’t be for them!

We – like Jonah – like our darkness. But we often don’t think of it that way. It’s so much easier to see the faults and sins of others rather than our own. It comes naturally to see the sliver in another person’s eye whilst ignoring the giant tree trunk in ours! But that’s why we have the Law of God, to reflect the truth of ourselves as a mirror, showing us our sin. To remind us of the darkness that lurks inside each one of us. To reinforce the truth that, yep, we need some outside light to illuminate our hearts and minds, ridding us of the shadow of death and Satan’s clutches.

But for Jonah, there is an even greater hurdle to jump over. That being the fact that he really hates the people who live in Nineveh! He despises them. He doesn’t want to see them, talk to them or have anything to do with them. Not only because there’s a chance he might not make it out of that great city alive, but because …they might actually repent of their sin and receive God’s mercy! It’s like the worst criminals – serial killers, murders, child abusers and traffickers, rapists, thieves, Stalins, Hitlers all the scum of society we’d like to fry in an electric chair – we’d love to see these people suffer for their sins. But God’s message to them is the same as it is to us: repent and be baptized! Receive the light of Christ that is not overcome by the darkness!

And that doesn’t sit well with us. We don’t like it, the same way Jonah didn’t like it. We don’t like God’s compassion and mercy when it is extended to “those people.” But if it extends to us, it extends to them. The love of God that keeps no record of our wrongs, keeps no record of theirs. It must go both ways and we must be glad that it does! For Christ our Lord willingly went to the cross for us all. He willingly gave up His life for everyone, that we may have the light and life of His kingdom. No matter what we’ve done, no matter where we’ve been, God accepts us in Christ. The message is the same for everyone: repent and receive the light!

And we know how Jonah’s story goes. He is quite literally barfed up on the beach by that giant fish. And still dripping with fish vomit, he goes to Nineveh. God’s call and mission hadn’t changed for Jonah. He went to the notorious city. He went through the gates and walked about a day’s journey. He then called out the prophetic warning: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And lo and behold, yea verily, the people hear his word! They listen! And they repent immediately! They put on sackcloth and ashes and declared a fast to show their sincerity! Wow!

But how could one man change an entire city?! How could Jonah, still sticky from his fish puke papoose ride bring about this incredible about-face?! The short answer is, He didn’t. It wasn’t Jonah that accomplished this great task. Rather, it was the power of God’s Word alone that shone the light in the darkness. It was the message that brought forth life from the dead. And God worked through that word that Jonah begrudgingly spoke.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! It brought the citizens of notorious Nineveh to their knees in repentance. They turned from their darkness and embraced the light of God’s forgiveness. God loves His people from the greatest to the least, from the most corrupt to the most saintly. And, His grace is indeed for all nations, for all tribes and races. All people live in spiritual darkness until the light of the gospel is brought to them by God’s messengers: the prophets, the apostles, the preachers, and all the faithful. So ask yourself, “where’s my Nineveh?” Where do I not want to proclaim the good news? Where is it most difficult to shine the light in the darkness? Then go and do it. Share that wonderful Epiphany message that God has revealed His grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. For this message is what will save people from the eternal darkness of sin and death. It is the message that brought life and light to the Ninevites and it is has done the same for you. To God be the glory now and forever more! Amen!

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