The Adoration of the Magi is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Dominic Church in Oyster Bay, N.Y. The Magi followed the light within and were willing to go wherever it led. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

God's Word on Sunday: God’s light will always guide us

  • January 6, 2023

Epiphany of the Lord (Year A) Jan. 8 (Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

How do we react to heartbreak, disappointment and the disintegration of all that we hold dear? For many, the reaction is despair, cynicism and depression. The last few years have brought the world much heartbreak, disappointment and struggle. We may have experienced these things in our own lives as well. 

But the message of the Bible is clear and consistent: the light will always penetrate the darkness and put it to flight. Time after time, the people experienced setbacks and disasters, but God always extended a helping hand. The people recovered, reconnected with their traditions and ideals and continued to thrive. 

The God of life always has the final say, and God always votes for life. 

The nation had recently returned from exile in Babylon, but things had not gone as well as they had hoped. The recovery was stalled; much of Jerusalem and the temple was still awaiting rebuilding. Israel was a shadow of its former self. The prophetic reassurance revealed that this was but the first step in their recovery. A reversal of fortune was on the horizon. The day would soon come when Zion would be a magnet for all the nations, who would come from afar to share in the divine light that emanated from the people of God. God had not forgotten or abandoned them. 

Isaiah’s prophecy was intended to give hope and courage in the face of adversity, which are sorely needed by all, both then and now. The prophecy spoke of visitors bringing the wealth of the nations — gold and frankincense. This was the theological inspiration for the account of the visit of the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel. The early Christians saw the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy for He was indeed the light that pierces and dispels the darkness. 

Our eyes and our hearts cannot become fixed on what we see immediately before us, for it can be overwhelming. The focus should be on the horizon — just beyond the present — for that is the direction from which God’s light will come. And come it will.

Recovery and new life do not mean that everything will be as it was before. New life means change — at times, lots of change. Ephesians reveals that the Gentiles were now to be fellow heirs, members of the same body and sharers in the promise of Jesus Christ. This had been in the works since the foundation of the world but had remained hidden until the proper moment. Many would have to change how they viewed God, the world and humanity as a whole. In our own time, the trials and struggles through which we are passing will call for many changes in our collective attitudes, values and ways of life. Whatever does not adapt or change will not survive.

The three Magi combined the characters and abilities of sages, magicians, astrologers and priests. They did not acquire names and kings’ crowns until the Middle Ages when legends and speculation swirled around this story. We do not know who they were or where they came from with any certainty. But only the knowledge that the “king” who was being born would bring momentous changes could have inspired them to make such an arduous journey. They read the stars, for the ancients believed that events on Earth were mirrored and foretold in the heavens, especially the birth of great individuals. Today it is only with difficulty that we can even see the stars. 

A great deal of scholarly ink has been spilled trying to prove, disprove or explain the star that they followed. Whether it was actually a star is debatable, but they certainly saw and followed something brilliant. Most importantly, they followed the light that was within them and were willing to go wherever it led. 

One of the reasons that the image of the Magi in Christmas creche scenes has made such an indelible impression on human consciousness is that it conveys two messages: Christ is coming into the world for all, and the world will never be the same. 

The Magi had to return to their own lands by another route — dark forces were already maneuvering to destroy the light. And we cannot go back the way we came — but we have the light to guide us.