God's Word on Sunday: Bright future lies on the path of light

  • January 6, 2018

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

At first glance, the opening lines of Isaiah’s prophecy are an apt description of the world in our own time. There is indeed a thick, suffocating darkness that seems to cover the Earth.

Various labels can be attached to it — fear, bigotry, intolerance, selfishness, violence, chaos and a pervading sense of hopelessness. But nothing under the sun is new.

That was the situation when this was written several hundred years before Christ and it describes many periods of history since, up to our own day.

Why, then, is it a prophecy of hope? Has anything changed? The hope lies in the one speaking — God — who reassures us that the darkness is only part of the picture. God is not finished yet. Indeed, God has barely begun!

In this prophecy, Isaiah promised the people of God that the future would be bright, prosperous and happy beyond their wildest dreams. Jerusalem would become the centre of the spiritual world, and a source of light and wisdom for the nations. We might ask if that occurred, and the answer would have to be a qualified “yes.”

This is prophetic language. It uses powerful images and symbols, and is designed to heal and encourage the heart and mind rather than predict the future. The beautiful imagery of this prophecy would have lifted the people out of their straitjacket of despair, discouragement and cynicism.

God was still at work and had many plans for Israel’s future. Light comes from God, not from social, political or economic ideologies. But there must be hearts and minds ready and willing to accept it and apply it to life. In our own day, political, social and economic systems seem to have ground to a halt. Not only are they not helping as they should, often they are the problem.

We need to be seeking the light from above, not to confirm our own opinions, fears and prejudices, but to find a path out of the darkness. We can start by stepping back from the venomous political and cultural wars and truly listening to God — and even to one another. Shrill, harsh rhetoric and demonization of those with whom we disagree will never lead to healing and reconciliation. The light shines, but it does not coerce. The choice is up to us.

For many centuries, God’s plan for the inclusion and redemption of the gentiles was a secret. If asked about it, most people would have thought that the idea was outrageous and practically impossible.

That is one reason many of God’s plans are kept secret for a time. To paraphrase a famous movie line, we just can’t handle the truth! Christians have often kept the blinders on, too, believing themselves to be the privileged recipients of God’s grace and salvation. But God does not care about our opinions, for God’s master plan can be summed up by mercy and inclusion.

Herod behaved as most dictators and tyrants. All the talk about a newborn king terrified him. It was a threat to his own power and prestige, and, like so many people, he abhorred change of any sort. Herod did the expected thing: He tried to destroy the light that was coming into the world.

His example has been followed by many who are terrified of the light. Three Persian priests or magi came from afar and honoured Jesus with gifts fit for a king of a very different sort. The drama began, for they had to return home by another route to avoid Herod’s soldiers, and the Holy Family, like so many families then and now, became refugees.

The magi represent those in our world who are seeking the light. They did not limit their search to their own country or religious and cultural tradition, but cast their net wide and were not afraid to strike out in new directions. The magi were willing to follow the light wherever it appeared, and wherever it led them, regardless of the cost.

In the present, we are in the same conflict between light and darkness. The light struggles to be born, the darkness seeks to snuff it out. In which camp do we stand — that of Herod, or the camp of the magi? Follow the light.

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