When Jesus heard that John had been arrested… This is the introduction to Jesus ministry in Matthew’s gospel. So far Matthew’s gospel has told us about Jesus birth and family, his baptism and temptation, and his relationship with John the Baptist. Now, it is time for Jesus to begin his years of ministry and it begins somewhat dramatically. John the Baptist had been arrested for denouncing Herod, the ruler of Galilee for his unrighteous way of life. For reminding Herod that divorcing his own wife and taking his sister in law to be his wife…was not the righteous thing to do. John was arrested because he spoke God’s word to those in charge and shed light into powerful corridors which had grown dark with corruption. Light and darkness. The prophet Isaiah also spoke God’s words to a people whose lives were in darkness. For them it was the all encompassing darkness of those who lived under the shadow of occupation and war. Who lived in a country which had been conquered and was now waiting for the other shoe to drop…and in time it would and the people who lived in the darkness of fear would soon be cast into the darkness of exile. It was to this hopeless people that Isaiah spoke the light of hope into the darkness of fear and oppression. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who lived in a land of deep darkness- on them light has shined. Hope of a life without fear, shining and splendid. Light and darkness. And now in the gospel, again in the midst of the darkness of doubt, fear, oppression and a down right miserable existence comes, not simply another prophet…but a prophecy fulfilled. Not simply light in the darkness…but The Light of the World. Jesus Christ; and we read that from that time Jesus began to proclaim, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of heaven has come near… a familiar phrase, a very biblical phrase but what the kingdom of heaven? The kingdom of heaven…the kingdom of God… they each stem from the Hebrew word Basileia and they convey the same thought; Dominion. The ways and means of power that are exercised over the world and those in it. But here specifically, it is the ways and means of power that God exercises rather than humanity. Saying that the Basileia of God is near is saying that the powers that be, the way that they command and hold authority will…not hold sway. The powers that be … will be changed… from the power of men (and I used that intentionally and historically) to the power of God. From a dominion exercised the way men view things…to God’s dominion. And what we see in this gospel passage is an example of that dichotomy. Herod’s kingship which responded to John’s truth with imprisonment, and Christ’s proclamation of God’s rule which begins with repentance. When Jesus begins his ministry in Matthew’s gospel he begins with repentance, with change. The word repent means to “reorient your mind”, to have a new way of looking at things. To move from a self centered world view to a kingdom world view. To have a fundamental transformation in how you live your life, to move from fishing for profit to fishing for people. Our gospel reading today concludes with the words that “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” In Jesus, the power of dominion, of kingship, is exemplified in the call to ‘love God, and love neighbour as you love self’. To live self sacrificially, with consideration of others and in a spirit of repentance. An intentionality to, like Christ, devest oneself of power and control and follow Christ’s call into ministry to follow Christ into a new kind of kingdom…one that doesn’t focus on self. We read throughout the gospels even when pushed to take power, Jesus declines, in fact Jesus often slips away and carries on his ministry…leading to the ultimate divestment of power. The cross. Instead of insisting people shine the light on him…Jesus brings his light to the people thorough preaching, teaching, speaking God’s word and healing the people… and not just his own people, but all people. Jesus healed Jews in the synagogues, women at home, servants of the Roman leaders (remembering Rome was an enemy occupying force in Jesus’ time), people who were unclean and taboo like lepers and hemorrhaging women, and even the historical enemies of the Jewish people…the woman of Samaria. Through Jesus the kingdom of God open to all…unity through the cross. In fact, as we continue through the season of epiphany we remember specifically that the Light of God was not only meant for Jesus’s own people, but for all people. The star of Bethlehem led people extraordinary distances and they were not turned away. The light of Christ burned for those who were like Christ and those who were not, for Jew and Gentile alike. There was no asking for credentials, no resume required, no proof that you were worthy or exclusion if you were obviously not. Living into Christ’s kingdom means repenting, changing, how we view people’s worth…people’s value. The light of Christ shone for Matthew the tax collector…a hated profession. For Nathanael who was prejudiced…what good can come from Nazareth? For Mary …who was full of demons. For Simon the zealot… member of a terrorist group. For Peter, always so eager and for Thomas who needed proof. In the midst of the darkness of each of their lives…the light of Christ shone…they each had an epiphany, they each had a call to repentance. A moment when they could see the kingdom of God…and how to become a part of that new regime. Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time convincing people to follow him…we read that he saw certain people as he was walking by and simply …called them. The good, the bad, the morally ugly… who knows what Christ saw in those he called. What we can assume is that they saw something in Christ… not unlike what we each have seen and followed him. The promise of a new kingdom. Not one based on power and allegiance, wealth and security…in fact for those who followed Christ it often seems quite the opposite. What this new kingdom…the Kingdom of God…the kingdom of light… promises … is that there is room for all people. That there is hope, inherent value and salvation for all people. And what is asked of those who live in this kingdom is that they too bring to light of Christ to those who dwell in darkness. That we would do as Christ did…teach, preach, heal and bring the Light to all people. That we would strive to bring people to wholeness and unity, to fulness of life and salvation. The kingdoms of this world, of despots, of oppressors, of all those whom the prophets speak against, see the people of this world as things to be used and consumed. The kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, sees people as beloved children to be taught, enlightened, illumined and made whole. Valuable in and of themselves, and each and every one, worthy of life, abundance and salvation…. not by their merit or even usefulness, but by God’s grace which is freely and abundantly given. The kingdom of God is unified not by motto, creed or allegiance, but by grace, by the cross… by God’s living kindness. Which means that when we are called by Christ to follow him and enter into that Godly Kingdom, we are called to action. For St. Paul it meant teaching and writing to communities all over the then known world to encourage unity in the body of Christ, rather than division. For Isaiah it meant speaking truth and light, in the midst of darkness … and for John the Baptist it meant speaking the word of God in the corridors of power and witnessing for God’s kingdom from a prison cell. For all of us it means starting with Christ’s call to repent. To take a long hard look at ourselves, and see where division and self centeredness lie. To find those parts of us that lay in darkness, seeking to possess rather than set free, to oppress rather than to empower, to be safe rather than to step out in love for all that Christ and his kingdom proclaims. For each of us, living into the kingdom of God may look different…but to each of us a call is given. A call to shine as an example of God’s kingdom in this world…an epiphany in living, breathing, fallible flesh. Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near…so let God’s light shine through you and together let us bring the Kingdom of God into the here and now.