It’s been almost a month since Christmas day. Two weeks since Christmas ended with the arrival of the Wise Men on the Feast of the Epiphany. It’s time to get back to life. Return to normal. Pay the bills, go back to work, school, the gym. It’s time to get on with it.
That’s what Simon, Andrew, John and James are trying to do. Get back to work. To life as normal. They’re fishermen, and what they do is fish. Whatever else is going on in the world, they will get up in the morning if they can, go down to the Sea of Galilee, and throw their nets into the water. They will gather what catch there is, and sell what can be sold, so that their families can eat tonight. After all, the preoccupation of most people in the world is, how will my family eat today?
But for Jesus, there is no getting back to life as usual. John the Baptist has been killed by the empire, but the Kingdom is still breaking in. God is still busy fulfilling God’s promises, and normal is not normal anymore. And while the Kingdom may be coming near, the empire still stands very much in power; oppression and injustice are still facts of life, and there is work to be done, darkness to address. The Christmas season may be over, but the incarnation doesn’t end on Epiphany. It only spreads, like light that grows and fills dark spaces.
These dark spaces begin with Zebulun and Naphtali. For our modern ears, these are just archaic names for archaic geography, places that mean little or nothing. Just more weird biblical syllables to struggle through. But there is a story to those names, and Matthew mentions them for a reason. Jesus moves there for a reason.
See, Zebulun and Naphtali are no more. The have been invaded and occupied so often that they have been wiped off the map. Over the centuries the Syrians, the Babylonians, the Philistines, the Ninevites, the Hasmoneans, the Romans. Every invading army ever has come through the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali. To even find them on a map, you would have to go back at least seven centuries before Jesus.
And yet this is where Jesus chooses to settle. “In the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.” Jesus could have settled in the halls of power, in Jerusalem, among the elites, near the priests and the scribes and the governors. But instead, he chooses to settle among the people who have walked in darkness. Because life will not be going back to normal. Once Jesus has shown up, life does not go back to normal.
Just ask Simon, Andrew, John and James. Minding their own business, getting back to normal, here comes Jesus, inviting them to follow him, and immediately they leave their nets and follow him. No period of discernment, no checking in with their families, no seeing if any better offers are in their inboxes no waiting to see what happens, if the darkness will really close in. Immediately, they follow the light. John and James not only dropped their nets, but also left their father and their boats. This is not getting back to life as usual. This is not even a new normal. This is something entirely different from normal. Something transformative. This is light shining on a land in deep darkness. This is foolishness that saves.
What else would it be to make ordinary men leave everything and follow? Foolishness. And yet this foolishness compels. It draws them forward. It stands in Galilee, on the road by the sea, in the lands that have been marginalized and oppressed, and it invites the sons of Zebulun and Naphtali to come and make a difference in the world. Invites them into relationship with the incarnate God, and through that incarnate God with the rest of the world. With Wise Men from the east and refugees from Egypt and Syria and marginalized and oppressed peoples everywhere. It invites the people who have sat in darkness to see a great light, and to be transformed by that light, so that they will become that light for the rest of the world. It is the foolishness of God, to love humanity so madly, deeply, crazy, that God would become one of us, come to us encased in humanity, to love and live and die as we do, and to transform this world just by showing up.
There is no normal. Not anymore. Whatever darkness you walk in, light is shining in. You don’t have to go looking for it. You do not have to change one single thing about yourself. Whether your permanent address is in Jerusalem or in Zebulun, whether you are just struggling to get by or whether your nets are full, whether you are grieving or celebrating or just kind of numb, God is busy showing up. Right where you are. God shows up there. And transforms you. For the sake of the world.
Right here. God shows up. At this table, week in and week out. God shows up for you. In your darkness, in your grief, in your exile, in your pain, in your fear, in your sorrow, in your life. God shows up in water and word, in a gathered community, in bread and wine. In you. Right here, at this table, week in and week out, you are gathered together, and you receive the living God into your body, so that you are transformed by the body and blood of Christ. Right here, at this table, week in and week out, you are made to be the body of Christ in this world, and you are sent out to become that body of Christ for the world. You are made to love humanity so madly, deeply, crazy that you would go out and meet them, and become a light for them, and invite them, the marginalized and the oppressed and the grieving and the fearful, invite them all into relationship, into light, into love.
There is no normal anymore. There is only the work of transforming this world. It is foolish work, and we are being invited into it. It is hard work, and we are being invited into it. It is healing work, and we are being invited into it. It is God’s work, and we are being invited to get on with it.