Reflection for the Epiphany - 5th January 2022
This is a season of light coming in the midst of darkness, both physical and spiritual. At this feast of the Epiphany we focus particularly on the revelation of this light to those beyond God’s covenant people. For the Eastern Church this is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus when he is publicly proclaimed as God’s son, an event which we will mark as the Octave day of Epiphany next week. In the Western Church this is embodied in the story of the Magi who came from the East, as told in the Gospel of St Matthew (Mt 2:1-2):
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
It is a story of a surprise, that the king they sought was not to be found in the royal palace in Jerusalem but in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem. The Magi had been observing the skies, seeking enlightenment and guidance. Their observations enabled them to interpret the world about them, and in their openness to the unknown they were led to the Christ child. Much artistic and imaginative energy has been expended on this story, and on exploring what might have happened to these men after this encounter. Were their astrological studies brought to an end by this encounter with the light of Christ? Or were they transformed and incorporated into a new context? We don’t know but we can surely say that their lives were changed and that the light that drew them to the baby in Bethlehem continued to shine in their lives, bringing them to new understanding of God’s ways with humanity.
I have been pondering this theme of light and what it really means to encounter the light of Christ, to encounter the one who said “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). And not forgetting that he also said “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14) – meaning us! It struck me that light merely allows you to see things, it doesn’t tell you what to do. Is it seeing things as they really are that enables us to know what to do?
Bright light reveals the beauty of things but also the horror of things we’d rather keep hidden. People who see truly can be frightening because we cannot hide, we must be truly who we are for better, for worse. Jesus got into deep trouble with the religious and political authorities because he saw through their pretensions and their self-centred posturing. The light that he brought was not welcome. Yet for those who could allow themselves to be seen as they were his gaze was one of love. It was those who already knew they were broken or outcast, who had nothing to lose, who were open to his love. The light he shone on them revealed the beauty within their brokenness and set them free to be fully alive.
Jesus comes as light to each one of us and invites us to open to our hearts to the reality that is revealed – that we are sinners who constantly go awry but yet are deeply loved and accepted. We are invited in to the heart of God in spite of our unworthiness. As the light of Christ shines in our hearts we in our turn become light for the world, a light that should be terrifying to the powers of darkness that are at work in so many aspects of our modern world. Our consumer culture feeds on peoples’ sense of inadequacy and persuades them that this product or that lifestyle change will make them a better person. The Church as the body of Christ needs to be an uncomfortable presence in a society based on such rampant consumerism and individualism. If more and more people knew that they were truly and deeply loved just as they are then maybe the tide of our greedy, destructive ways can begin to turn.
We need to let the light of Christ’s love shine and be manifested in our lives here, starting with a loving acceptance of our own selves as precious children of God. Then from that place we can love and accept others with the love of Christ that we have ourselves known. In that way we can become lights to the world.
Mother Anne - 5th January 2022