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Thursday 6 January 2022: The Epiphany

Walking in the Radiant Light of God’s Love

Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

By Jan Nowotnik

A priest of the Birmingham Archdiocese, Director of Mission and National Ecumenical Officer at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, currently completing a PhD in ecumenical theology

Context: a congregation which includes a cross-section of people, young and old, many with a professional background and some higher education, ranging from the theologically literate to those with little formation in their faith

Aim: an exploration of how an encounter with the Lord changes us and helps us to focus on the journey that the Lord invites us to take

‘Arise, shine out, Jerusalem, for your light has come. The glory of the Lord is rising on you, though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples.’ The prophet Isaiah provides the backdrop against which to understand the feast of Epiphany, proclaiming that God’s light and love penetrates the darkness of our hearts and minds so that as the prophet suggests we will ‘grow radiant’ in the Lord’s glory.

In the Western Christian tradition, the Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus, whereas in the Eastern tradition it primarily reminds us of Jesus’ baptism and the revelation that the incarnate Christ was both fully God and fully man. In both East and West, the Epiphany represents a significant moment to ponder God’s love for us, his people to whom he has revealed himself. Like Saint Paul in the second reading, through our baptism we are drawn into this mystery which ‘has now been revealed to us through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets.’ Or put another way, the mystery is revealed to us in the very life of the Church. The Epiphany reminds us of something that we know to be true; that, created in his image and likeness, God has called us into a relationship of love with him. As Saint Pauls teaches us; we are members of the same body, and we share the same promise of an inheritance that the Lord wishes to bestow upon us.

 

THE LIGHT OF THE STAR AND THE LIGHT OF FAITH

Our journey of faith which begins in baptism is not dissimilar to the journey that the Magi undertook. They relied on astrological signs and a star to guide their way, whereas we are guided by the gift of faith. This faith is nourished when we read the Scriptures or participate in the Eucharist, we are helped by our quiet moments of prayer, and often we are supported by the example of other Christians as we attempt to discern what the Lord is offering to us as we journey on the way.

Yet sometimes we still we stumble around in the darkness and lose our way. We just can’t see the radiant glory of God’s love for us. Our lack of faith, or our doubts, our sin or lack of self-worth; these inhibit us, and we find it hard to trust in the Lord. I wonder if this is why the Magi set out on their quest, believing that there was more to life than just what they had been experiencing. Their pilgrimage, guided by the star, brought them to the realisation of just how much God loved them. It is that realisation which leads them to avoid Herod, going home by a different route.

 

KNEELING IN HOMAGE, WALKING IN THE LIGHT

Perhaps the same can be true for us as well? Can we allow the celebration of this feast to truly penetrate our doubts and our lack of self-worth to let the Lord’s light shine in our hearts? I believe that if we imitate the Magi’s example, then we can; if we also kneel before the Lord and ‘do him homage.’ What kind of homage can we give him? For most of us it will be the hidden everyday nature of our lives (lives which are already God’s gift) which can be transformed by his grace into something very precious.

Today’s feast invites us to walk in the radiant light of God’s love and to be transformed by our openness to that light. In the Catholic Church, we are in the midst of a ‘synodal process’ whereby Pope Francis has asked the members of the Church, lay and clergy, to discern how best to understand what God is asking of the People of God in these days. We can draw support from the Magi’s example as we continue this process, hopefully and with open hearts. Full of gratitude for the Lord’s goodness we must allow the Holy Spirit to stir up our hearts and minds, so that we can also see the Lord’s light shining and be able to arrive at the place where he wants us to be.

The example of the Magi is profound. Their encounter with Jesus transformed them so much that they went home by a different route. The same must be true of us when we meet the Lord in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, and when we share the road with each other. If this is not the case, then perhaps we need to pray for an ‘epiphany experience’ for ourselves, one through which we can come to know the glory of the Lord shining over us so that we can be ready to be transformed by his love.

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