Matthew 4:12-17 depicts a time when John the Baptist has been arrested and when Jesus is stepping forward into his own ministry. His curious first step forward? Withdraw.
The language of the text says that Jesus “withdrew into Galilee”, leaving Nazareth for Capernaum. More than mere relocation, the shift is backed with Isaiah’s prophetic language:
“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
Jesus’ presence is akin to that of light: Comforting, empowering, and revealing. It was so in the region of Galilee, and it continues to be so in every life that opens its doors to Jesus.
Verse 17 then adds:
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Too often, we internally shrink this sharp call of Jesus’ into a paraphrase: “Stop being bad, start being good, and you’ll feel God’s blessing on your life.” That isn’t untrue; it’s just not true enough.
Jesus’ statement is framed as a logical movement from Isaiah’s words, meaning that a more accurate slant on Jesus’ earliest message would be: “God’s light is shining brighter and nearer than you would dare to think. In view of this, drop everything that hinders and hardens you against this growing God-reign and embrace all that frees and forms you for full participation in it.”
In two lines: Jesus, the Light of lights, is shining. Draw near and step in to the view and the warmth found there.
Anything less shouldn’t likely be called Christmas.