Indian writer and activist Arundahti Roy proclaimed, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” This Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah echoes this message by depicting a radical vision for the people of God- a world in which their distress has turned into joy, and the darkness around them has been pierced by a brilliant light. Isaiah announces,
“Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
For there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
A light has shone.”
Winter has arrived in the northern hemisphere, and the January sky is often gloomy and cold as we collectively long for the warmth of the light. In the lives of many there is also much darkness, especially for those suffering from mental, physical, and spiritual distress due to loss, illness, or oppression. During the past few years, the global pandemic has exacerbated the physical and mental load already affecting marginalized communities, leaving more and more people vulnerable to the effects of disease, racism, sexism, and economic exploitation. On top of that, the global temperature is on the rise, causing devastating weather events like wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves, not to mention the decrease in wildlife and the melting of arctic ice. It is easy to hear this prophecy from Isaiah and wonder if this world is even possible, and whether our suffering will ever transform into abundant joy.
The Isrealites in Isaiah’s time were living under Assyrian control, and his prophecy was a political and social revolution against empire as he ushered in a vision of a new world in which justice and peace would prevail. We can imagine what it must have felt like for the subjugated people to hear that the “yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster [God] has smashed.” Could they imagine this new world that was on her way? Could they hear the breath of freedom in the air, even if only for a moment? In our gospel reading, Jesus echoes this prophecy from Isaiah to the Jews living under Roman rule, shortly after his cousin John had been arrested for his radical ministry. Jesus’ vision that light would conquer the darkness and that life would overcome death served as an audacious message of hope and liberation for people who were suffering at the hands of the empire. This vision represents the inbreaking of the kin-dom of God- a state of being where all of creation participates in building a world of love, justice, forgiveness, and peace. Jesus preached that this new world was not only possible, but it is near; the “kin-dom of heaven is at hand.”
In our own time, vulnerable people in our communities are also living and dying under oppression and unjust governance. Whether it be a mother living in poverty who cannot afford to buy her child insulin, a survivor of sexual violence who is not believed, or a child caught in the line of fire due to gun violence, there are many who live in anguish and “walk in darkness” each day. Do you believe that another world is possible? Our Christian faith provides us with the inconceivable hope that there is always light that will pierce the darkness, and that another world is already on her way. We can catch glimpses of this kin-dom that God desires for us each time love conquers fear, and each day that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, as the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed was possible. By remembering that God is our light, we can help usher in this new world where there is no longer poverty, hunger, or hate; what King called the beloved community. This God-given light also lives within each human being, and can give us the strength to fight for justice another day, and to work towards a dream that others may find impossible. Since God is an active God working in and through the lives of those who suffer, we can be assured that this new world is not only possible, but that she is already on her way. May we have the grace and bravery not only see this light amidst the darkness, but be that light to guide the way for others. Amen.
Karen Ross, PhD (she/her/ella) is a graduate program director, theology and ethics professor, and yoga and mindfulness instructor. She currently works at Catholic Theological Union as the director of the Pathways@CTU program, which seeks to engage young people- especially those from marginalized communities- in co-creating the church of tomorrow. She received her PhD in theology and ethics from Loyola University Chicago, and her research focuses on feminist ethics and Catholic sexuality education, particularly of young women and girls.
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