Like the three magi, we hunger for light . . . and the Lord shines
By: By Shawn Reeves
Solemnity of the 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
My toddler is fascinated with light. From the flicker of the tiniest candle to the immense exhibition of fireworks, light captivates him. In fact, “lights” was one of his first words as he discovered holiday illumination shortly after beginning to speak. And from what I can tell, we all seem to share in his fascination a little bit this time of the year. Few things can rejuvenate a childlike zeal like a host of tiny, stringed lights upon houses and trees pushing back the darkness of winter.
From the squint of our first glimpse of life at birth to the closing of our eyes at death, the warmth of the sun at first dawn to the rich vigil of moonlight by night, light orders much of our human experience. We thrive on it and without it we feel an absence and coldness. It is no wonder, then, why the perennial duel between light and darkness is spread widely throughout literature of all cultures. It is imagery we both imagine in the mind and feel in the flesh. And this Sunday it is imagery that pervades our readings.
Light and spiritual illumination (revelation) are the centerpiece of the experiences in these readings. Light has come upon Jerusalem. The King of Kings is made known to the Magi by the light of a star. And a mystery unknown to previous generations has been “revealed,” unveiled and brought to light, for St. Paul and the Church of Ephesus. The light of Christ invades us from all sides.
GOD PENETRATES THE DARKNESS
But if light has come, what has it displaced? Light and darkness cannot coexist — in neither science nor poetry. If light has come, something else has been supplanted and dethroned. Like the ominous narrative at the beginning of the first “Lord of the Rings” film, Isaiah announces, “darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples.” But for Jerusalem, “the Lord shines!”
Be it a void of the sun’s touch or the metaphorical darkness of fear, confusion, disorder, and death, darkness oppresses us, as if overshadowing us like a cloud and pressing its weight and weather upon us. Under its domination, darkness impresses on us the suspicion that it is the only reality, the sole circumstance of life, and our spirits are easily crushed by the magnitude of its force. But then, God’s light penetrates the darkness — fears are weakened, confused minds find clarity, order begins to burgeon, and even death loses its finality. The Lord shines!
The image of the three magi eagerly navigating their way to the Lord Jesus by the miraculous illumination of the Bethlehem star is an image most of us have seen annually since childhood. Perhaps, though, we miss that more magnificent light that guided them. No one leaves a home and kingdom to traverse a foreign land on a whim or mere fascination with a celestial display. A greater, more potent light is needed for that. More than the illumination of the Bethlehem star upon their eyes, the illumination of God’s light upon their hearts bolstered their hope and zeal enough to chase after the heavenly sign that mirrored the light in their souls wherever it led them. A star promised a king, and they opened their treasures to him.
The child Jesus is found with his mother, and they did him homage. They hungered for light, and the Lord shines! Raise your eyes and look about: The Epiphany of Christ’s shining radiance has come.
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.