We must be open to God's light

  • December 19, 2008
Epiphany of the Lord (Year B) Jan. 4 (Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

Light and darkness form a powerful biblical symbol for the contrast between God and humanity’s ignorance and sin. The symbol is especially poignant in our own time for we face more than the usual amount of darkness: violence and terrorism, severe economic hardship and a collective crisis of faith and meaning.

But darkness is linked to our perception and awareness, for where some people see only darkness and gloom others experience brilliant light. Isaiah’s words were written to those who had experienced an abundance of darkness in the form of destruction, exile and social dislocation. It caused much soul-searching and reflection and even nagging questions of faith. But God’s light is far brighter and more powerful than any human-generated darkness and that is Isaiah’s message of hope. Israel will recover spiritually from her disaster and will become a beacon of light for others. In a similar fashion, we are never down for the count — we can recover from our own difficulties if we are open to God. The very emotional and spiritual wounds and scars that we bear can become sources of wisdom and holiness. In our own time we can be certain that God’s light will be manifested in ways appropriate for our situation.

But God’s light is nothing new for it was present in a hidden plan that was unfolding for ages — the inclusion and unity of all the peoples of the Earth. This light was fully manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There has been a continual struggle to fully understand the implications of that divine plan. The tug-of-war in human hearts and minds continues: a particular God, carefully circumscribed and controlled, or a universal and inclusive God who transcends barriers and divisions. And God’s plan continues to unfold. But light must also be received, and the only way we can accept God’s light is to be transparent and open to it.

The three magi were not kings but probably Persian priests and holy men. They have read God’s activities in the stars, for the stars were thought to be intimately connected with the human realm. The birth of great figures was usually heralded by signs in the heavens. It is clear that they believed that this great spiritual personage whom they sought would be someone of universal significance. Their yearning for the light and their openness to the movement of the spirit prompted them to depart from the security of their own land and belief system and to go wherever the light led them.

But what appears as light and joy to some produces fear and anger in others. The magi probably did not totally comprehend Jesus and what He was about. But they recognized the presence and movement of God that transcended all barriers and categories. They surrendered in joyful awe before the presence of the divine light in such a unique and surprising form. Herod on the other hand was terrified, for he correctly saw that the coming of Jesus would mean huge changes in the world beginning with human claims to power and authority. His one desire was to snuff out the light before it can even get started.

Where are we today? We cannot assume that God’s activity is finished or that Epiphany is merely some event in the distant past. It is a continual divine process — God unveiling Godself to us in ever-changing and challenging ways. Amidst a time of great fear and uncertainty we are in great need of that light. But it might come to us in surprising ways and in places we do not expect. It will call for a lot of dying to the past and to self. Let us not leave matters to the world’s Herods or to the bit of Herod we might carry within ourselves. Do we have minds and hearts big enough and open enough to respond and follow? The star in this story is a sign of God’s continuing presence and guidance. It is always there if we only know where and how to look for it.