The Adoration of the Magi is depicted in a stained-glass window at Holy Family Church in New York. The feast of the Epiphany of the Lord is observed Jan. 7. OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

God's Word on Sunday: Our actions will allow the light to shine

  • January 5, 2024

Epiphany of the Lord (Year B) Jan. 7 (Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

The thick darkness covering the Earth is easy enough to find, but the glorious light requires a bit more searching. In the past year, there has been an abundance of darkness — war, terrorism, mass shootings, corruption and the continual degradation of the environment and climate. Many lives have been lost; many are homeless; and many more are without hope.

But the proclamation of the prophecy is confident and insistent: the light will pierce and eventually overcome the darkness. It might not be readily apparent, for it says that the Lord and His glory will arise and shine upon “you.” This implies that it will be clear and unmistakable to those whose hearts and minds are prepared and open to receive it, but perhaps invisible to those who are closed or resistant to the message.

The images of material prosperity and glory should not be taken literally, for this prophecy alludes to the spiritual awakening of the people of God. The awareness and experience of the divine presence is transforming, resulting in intense joy and radiance. The best part of this is that it will act as a beacon for all the peoples of the Earth, drawing them ever nearer to the source of life and light. This sort of radiance and joy often says little or nothing for it is more a presence. To borrow Cardinal Newman’s words, there is a “catching force” and “sympathetic influence” that draws others to God, and it is that sort of glory and radiance promised in the prophecy. We cannot give what we do not have. It is time for all Christians to put aside their cynicism, anger, name calling and labelling and seek a personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. That is the only way that the light will come into the world, the only way that we can push back the darkness. We have to create the conditions for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

What was the big secret that had been kept under wraps for so many centuries? It seems obvious and commonplace to us today, but two millennia ago it was a game changer. God was including all peoples in the divine plan of salvation. God would not belong to any individual, group, religion or nation, but would be accessible to all. We are still unpacking the implications of that revelation, but we have a long way to go.

Why do the magi — wise men or spiritual adepts — fascinate us so much? No crèche scene would be complete without them. We do not know how many there were — the text does not specify — or their exact place of origin. They were nameless, although later medieval traditions would come up with exotic names. There is no mention of their being kings, that status would also come later through legend and pious tradition. They were later represented in works of art as both young and old, and of various races. And oddly enough, they are only presented in Matthew. Many would dismiss them as fictional. The mystery will never be solved, but we can ask a very important question: What did they symbolize in the story and why are they so attractive to people?

The magi represent the yearning and seeking human heart and soul. Most people have a deep longing for God and for transcendence even if they do not recognize it. Often their seeking after passing and earthly things is a frantic attempt to experience genuine inner peace and a sense of being loved. The magi were relentless and unwavering in their search — it was the focus of their entire lives. They were quite willing to look beyond their own backyard and to the ends of the Earth. They were not limited by boundaries and labels but sought the truth wherever it might be found. They relied on divine guidance and their own inner spiritual compass. The arduous and ultimately dangerous journey that they undertook was proof of their dedication.

There is something deeply appealing about the universal nature of their mission and the exotic aura surrounding them in the tradition. They read His birth in the stars, signifying mighty changes on the Earth. They came to do homage to the infant Jesus, bringing gifts fit for a king. The world will never be the same. May we follow the light with the same intensity of purpose as the magi.