God will reward us in His good plan

  • December 29, 2010
Epiphany (Year A) Jan. 2 (Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

Singing a song of hope and a bright future is very difficult when all of the visible evidence paints a different picture. Incredulity and ridicule are often the rewards for the prophetic individual who dares to swim against the current.

It is puzzling that people are often more favourably disposed to prophecies of doom and gloom than hope and light. This latter portion of Isaiah spoke to a disappointed and in many respects broken people. The exile was ending but Jerusalem lay in ruins and the nation in moral and spiritual desolation. The prophesied glorious return accompanied by signs of divine power and glory had not materialized. Isaiah — or most likely one of his later followers — freely acknowledged the darkness that covered the Earth. Things did not look good and there is no attempt to sugar-coat the situation.

But the exhortation that follows reminds Israel of her divine mission and destiny. Arise and look around you, he exhorts, and you will see a new reality taking shape before your eyes. God has other plans, good ones, for the entire nation.

But this is not something for which they can wait passively or indifferently. Ideals must be remembered, covenants renewed and fervent recommitments made. Then and only then will the light grow ever brighter and become a beacon of hope and holiness in a dark world. Other nations will stream towards the source of that light bearing gold and frankincense — signs of reverence and respect. In a sense the prophecy is addressed to the sacred imagination of the people, encouraging them to think and act in new and positive ways and to have a more universal and expansive view of God. It is with our minds and hearts that we create the reality in which we live.

Isaiah’s words are as alive and relevant today as they were so long ago. The world’s violence, fear, selfishness and negativity can seem overwhelming. It is far too easy to surrender to that oppressive and suffocating darkness and the price is despair, cynicism and joylessness. It is far more helpful to remember our divine vocation and recommit ourselves to our highest spiritual ideals. The future of our world depends on it.

The universal understanding of God is evident in the joyful and excited proclamation in Ephesians. This great mystery is that all the peoples of the Earth have been invited to share in the inheritance of Christ. This mystery is often taken for granted or given mere lip service but it represented a significant change in spiritual consciousness. In some respects its consequences have not been fully absorbed into our consciousness. God is not the possession of any person or group; God plays no favourites; and there can be no “Other” to hate or exclude.

All of this implies newness and change and not everyone is willing to embrace this. Herod responded with paranoia and terror as do many who cling to power or the status quo. He was quite willing to kill in order to snuff out the light at its very entry into the world.

But others respond with joy and eagerness. The three wise men and spiritual seekers from the East are prime examples. They did not look for labels and they were willing to look outside the boundaries of their own culture and tradition. They travelled to new territory in both a literal and metaphorical sense. In the ancient world, momentous earthly events and the birth of great personages were reflected and heralded in the heavens, hence the “star” of Bethlehem. They followed the light, whether physical or metaphorical, and arrived in the presence of the one who Himself was the light of the world.

Epiphany is a feast that celebrates the universal manifestation of God’s grace and the abolition of artificial boundaries and divisions between people. In a world that is torn by much religiously fuelled violence and hatred we must all begin that journey away from the familiar and predictable. The journey enters a new and more spiritually rich stage when we all humble ourselves silently before the Light and allow God’s will to be done.