Christians can be guided by God’s light to walk in peace

  • December 21, 2007

Epiphany (Year A) Jan. 6 (Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

The image painted of the world in Isaiah’s vision seems all too familiar. The peoples of the Earth are imprisoned in darkness and they stumble about in a spiritual and intellectual stupor. There is precious little light in our own time, but an abundance of hatred, violence and fear. And to compound the problem, the very existence of God is an open question to many and a settled one, in a negative fashion, to many others.

And yet this follower of Isaiah, writing towards the end of the exile in Babylon, is hopeful and joyful as only Isaiah’s tradition can be. Light, radiance, joy — all biblical metaphors for God — are promised to humanity. There will come a time, he says, when everyone will “see the light” and turn towards the revelation of God that is Israel’s gift to the world.

But how can and why should the nations of the Earth see the light and turn to God? There is no magical formula that will make this a reality. It can only happen when people actually see and experience God made present and visible in individual people, communities, religious bodies and countries. And that is why the name of God is in such trouble in our world. The primary challenge and mission of all Christians is to cultivate the experience and awareness of God’s presence in a way that illuminates the world around us. To walk in justice, compassion, joy and peace is the equivalent to a powerful beacon shining in the darkest night. God is never to be hoarded, access to God is never to be controlled and there must always be enough evidence of God’s presence to attract and convince the searching and wavering hearts around us.

Revelation is not a once-and-for-all event but an unfolding process. The hidden revelation that was manifested in Christ was controversial then, even among Christians. Basically, God was revealed as inclusive, universal and beyond the ownership and control of anyone. There were many who resisted the inclusion of the gentiles, for it seemed to contradict tradition — or at least the more superficial layers of tradition. God is not finished with the revelation — it is still to be unveiled — as the net of God’s inclusiveness is cast ever wider. The question for us is whether we embrace that revelation or resist it.

The three Magi embrace that revelation with enthusiasm. They are guided by spiritual sensitivity and openness and by seeking with open minds and hearts. They ask no cynical questions, set no conditions and do not approach this event with suspicion or self-seeking. Quite simply, they are overjoyed, especially after risking so much to make the journey. The birth of kings, great leaders and spiritual teachers were believed to be heralded by signs in the heavens, and they are guided by that light. The gifts that they lay at the feet of Jesus are the rare and expensive gifts suitable for a king.

But the revelation of God never leaves the status quo or human egos unscathed. Although there are many who welcome the light with eagerness, there are many more who would be only too happy to snuff it out before it can do any “damage.” Herod rightly senses a challenge to his power, and the very structure of the society over which he rules. Persecution is often nothing more than a pathological fear of the loss of control and power. Later on the Romans would execute Jesus and persecute His followers for precisely the same reasons. The birth of this child means that nothing will ever be the same.

Encountering the divine presence does not leave the individual person unchanged either. The Magi do not simply retrace their steps; they return to their country by another path, and we can understand that. The epiphany or manifestation of God to the Magi is not merely a long-ago event. Its significance and power is still being unpacked. Are we courageous enough to step out of our comfort zone and follow the star?

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