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Just like we celebrated this past Christmas, God is indeed a God of surprises. He writes His story of salvation in ways that we don’t expect. Indeed God has a way of keeping us on our toes, and He shows up where we would least expect Him. Sometimes God gets our attention in big ways, and perhaps many of us can think of times when we were saved from danger or had a brush with death. One family story about this comes from a summer vacation when I was 10 years old.
So yah, sometimes there are big ways that God sends us a message that no matter how bad things may seem, he is there with us in the midst of it (even if that still means a broken leg or 18 stitches).
But more often that not, God shows Himself in small, simple ways, that are still just as surprising or unexpected.
That is the point of the “land of Zebulon and Naphtali” in today’s readings. These lands are the region around the Sea of Galilee, and are thus the far northern part of the promised land, but had long before the time of Christ been completely wiped off the map. About a century later other Jewish tribes settled there, but by the time of Christ it was considered backwater territory, and hence the reason for the scathing question of Nathaniel: “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And this is once again how God surprises us, for indeed the greatest gift of all comes from the unexpected territory of the north: Jesus of Nazareth.
And he doesn’t come with radiant light and power, but he hides it underneath human flesh, for 30 years, and then finally starts with the humble phrase that puts no attention on Himself: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.”
The point of all this is simple for us: What is my Zebulon and Naphtali? Where do I think God could never be found? What part of my past do I think dead and lifeless, incapable of being redeemed? Where in my life (and in my world) do I say “what good can come from that?” Very often we may find ourselves surprised to find Jesus there, calling us to believe in the Gospel because His Kingdom is at hand.
Saint Paul today speaks how we are all united by one thing: baptism into the Cross of Christ Jesus. Let us never forget how unexpected this God of ours is, especially in this most shocking and wondrous sign of our faith here at the center of our Church, and never drain the Cross of its power. It is there at the Cross, in dying to ourselves, that we find our true Zebulon and Naphtali, and the Lord of History meets us to bring us His Kingdom. Amen.