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Jesus’ entrance into Galilee was a great light that dawned on those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, Christmas Time, January 03, 2022
1 John 3:22-4:6, Psalm 2, Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25

Scripture quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version

unless otherwise noted




“Now when he [Jesus] heard that John [the Baptist] had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward 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 preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ … And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan” (Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25).



Today Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee. He was baptized by John the Baptist and then spent forty days and nights fasting in the desert, being tempted by the devil. After ministering for some time and Judea, when he heard that John the Baptist was arrested, he left Judea and went to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he begin to live in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, which was in the ancient territory of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, about which Isaiah prophesied, “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward 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” (Isaiah 9:1-2 as quoted by Matthew 4:15-16).



And what did Jesus do in Capernaum? He preached, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). During the eighth century B.C. Assyrian invasion of Israel, the Assyrian armies first entered by the north into Galilee and then down into Judea and Jerusalem. So Isaiah tries to console the people of Galilee by telling them that they who were the first to be devastated by Assyria will be the first to be consoled by God: “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” (Isaiah 9:2 as quoted by Matthew 4:16).



This prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus Christ the Son of God and Savior of the world during his Galilean preaching mission, which was precisely in “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” (Isaiah 1:1 quoted by Matthew 4:15), for in him a great light has come to those in Galilee, who were sitting in darkness. Jesus brings them salvation by his very presence as the Son of God and Savior of the world in their midst, preaching to them the gospel of the kingdom.



This same Jesus brings us great light today if we receive his preaching with faith and repentance. Jesus asked for both faith and repentance, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Faith without repentance is ineffective, and repentance without faith is also ineffective. Jesus promises us salvation from our sins, from our guilt, and from our punishment for our sins if we put our faith in him and sincerely repent and turn our back on our former sinful way of living and firmly resolve to immediately amend our life with the new help of his justifying grace.



The fullness of this gospel salvation could not yet be clearly experienced by these people in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali as Jesus preached to them, for the saving act itself of Christ’s death on the cross had not yet taken place. Nonetheless he could teach them many things, and they could put their faith and trust in him, while turning their back on their former sins. In this way they could follow him and begin already to live in this new life of God and in the divine love and heavenly peace that Christ brings to all who put their faith in him.



Preaching is extremely important, and it does even more good now than Jesus’ own preaching two thousand years ago, because Jesus’ preaching anticipated his saving act which people could not yet fully experience until his death, resurrection, and the coming in fullness of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.



But when we preach, people who accept our message can immediately begin to clearly experience the salvation that Christ brings to the world, for they experience the relief that God’s forgiveness gives them as their guilt is removed and their punishment for their sins is vicariously suffered for them by the Son of God on the cross. Preaching lets people know about this and invites them to put their faith in it, for preaching presents to them the fact of how God saves us by his Son suffering our death penalty for our sins for us who put our faith in him and sincerely repent.



It is very important today to speak of repentance, since it is the portal into receiving the salvation that Christ brings to the world, for today many who self-identify as Christians reject repentance. They love their sins and think they can combine the enjoyment of their favorite sins with the joy of Christianity, and so today we have preachers who call themselves Christians but reject repentance.



There is a new false moral theory – actually an immoral theory – that God is so merciful that he won’t punish anybody. According to this new false theory, God will even change his moral law to suit sinful people in difficult life situations. According to this theory, God helps people in difficult life situations by revealing to their conscience a new, lower, easier moral law, custom-made just for them, which allows them to continue in their favorite sins – whether they be fornication, adultery, or homosexual acts – but in his mercy he will not count them as sins in their case, because he sees that his biblically revealed moral law is too hard for them in their difficult life situation.



So they can continue in their favorite sins and still be considered Christians in good standing and receive the Eucharist as often as they like. According to this theory, people can continue to sin gravely, living in a habitual state of objective mortal sin, and yet be regarded by God as faithful upright members of his Church.



This theory, of course, is totally immoral and completely against biblical revelation from one end of the Bible to the other, but it has deceived many who self-identify as Christians by leading them into living an immoral life, by objective biblical standards, and therefore jeopardizing their eternal salvation.



The antidote to this false moral theory is what Jesus is doing today, preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). This repentance must be genuine; that is, we must firmly and fully break from our past sinful way of living.



Genuine repentance “needs to be pressed on all mankind without exception. High or low, rich or poor, all have sinned and are guilty before God; and all must repent and be converted, if they would be saved. And true repentance is no light matter. It is a thorough change of heart about sin, a change showing itself in godly sorrow and humiliation – in heartfelt confession before the throne of grace – in a complete breaking off from sinful habits, and an abiding hatred of all sin. Such repentance is the inseparable companion of saving faith in Christ” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900).


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