Light for a dark world

By: By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Epiphany of the Lord, Jan. 4

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

The feast of the Epiphany is one of the most intriguing stories in Scripture. We hear of magi, gifts, tension with authority, flight, star, manger. What do we make of all the subplots — important people coming from a foreign land, a star guiding them to their destination, an interruption by a fearful ruler, a child in a manger who was born in the cold of the night?

The word epiphany means manifestation or light. So how does this all come together?

We learn from the prophet Isaiah that “nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” They shall come “from Midian and Ephah; from Sheba bearing gold and frankincense.”

The strangers who come from afar have been led by a star, a light. They somehow received an inner call that compelled them to take this journey. They listened to the prompting of the call, and made the journey to a place they did not know. It was not the easiest trip — they were stopped by the ruler of Jerusalem, Herod. That did not keep them from reaching their destination, however. They arrived in the cold of the night, led by the light of a star, to the simple “dwelling” of the Christ Child. Little did they know the impact of this journey.

They came with gifts, a sign of hospitality. They knelt in homage to a small child who was destined to become the One who led them in this journey. What an intriguing story!

What does this story have to do with our lives? We are not accustomed to being led by a light to a foreign country to discover new things, but we do have the experience of being called by the inner promptings of the Spirit to go where we would choose not to go. We are often interrupted by difficulties and unknown obstacles that could very easily stop us. But we move forward, knowing that somehow there will be more than we expect at the end of our journey.

We travel to our unknown places in life, often bringing gifts like the strangers brought with them. Sometimes these gifts are meant to please someone. Sometimes these gifts are given with the thought that we will receive in return. Sometimes our gift giving is designed to make the receiver beholden to us.

We learn something significant from the magi. A gift has no reason for exchange because it is a sign of our hospitality to another, just as the gifts given to the Christ Child were a sign of graciousness and hospitality. A gift, by its very definition, symbolizes and reflects the giver. That is its purpose and nothing more.

Because a gift symbolizes us, its meaning comes from within. Gifts we receive that mean the most to us are usually gifts that have taken time and energy to create. A gift expands our ability to be unselfish, to think of the other. A thoughtful gift brings out the best in us.

This attitude of gift giving was the opposite of the attitude of Herod, who questioned the strangers in an effort to help his own cause. He was fearful of someone who might eventually become more powerful than he was, and he was willing to extinguish the life of that person. With the prompting of the Spirit, the strangers were able to move beyond this fearful request and continue their trip to their destination.

How often we get stopped by fear! And how often we listen to the fearful voices from within.

As we journey toward the Christ Child, we bring the gifts from within that are cultivated by the Spirit of God. These gifts are a sign of our hospitality to the world around us. Like the strangers in the story, our journey begins with the call of the Spirit, that inner light that beckons us out of ourselves and toward a world waiting for the gifts of God’s peace and compassion.

The magi are truly symbols for us in our journey of faith. They represent God’s invitation to all, including those outside the boundaries of the conventional, the fulfillment of a journey and gift giving borne of graciousness and hospitality. The magi had the privilege to be the first to manifest the newborn Christ Child to the world — a world waiting for peace and compassion.

Like the magi, we journey with our gifts nurtured in prayer and openness to God’s call to manifest Christ to a waiting world.

As Pope Benedict said in his Christmas Eve message: “To all those who are listening, light the candle of peace inside yourself, light the candle of welcoming and understanding that will help you listen and share the cry of the poor and of those who suffer.”

May we offer our candle of peace to a world longing for the gift of Christ’s love.

A member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, has been pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights since 1983.

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