By Fr. ROBERT ALTIER
Solemnity of the Epiphany (YR A)
Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6
Eph. 3:2-3a, 5-6
In the first reading today we hear God speak through His prophet, stating that darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the people. Contrast that with Jerusalem of which it is said that its light had come and the glory of the Lord shines upon her. This is not a physical light and darkness as it was with the ninth plague in Egypt when the Egyptians were in darkness while the sun shone on the Israelites; rather, it is spiritual.
When we read what St. Paul says about being children of the light and even stating that we were once darkness and now have become light, we realize that this has to do with our minds and wills. He speaks of the sins people commit as being done in darkness and juxtaposes this with those deeds done in the light. Our Lord makes this same point about our actions done in this world, but He also speaks of what will be exposed in the light referring to our judgment. Nothing will be hidden in darkness on that day.
Another aspect of this light that we must also keep in mind is that, when speaking of God, light also has reference to a Person. In the Creed we even speak of our Lord as being Light from Light. St. John tells us that Jesus is the light that came into the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it. You may say that this does not refer to a Person, but in the same passage St. John says of St. John the Baptist that he was not the light, but came to testify to the light. That light is the Person of Jesus.
So, what are we to make of this? The Israelites were given the revelation of God. This revelation was the fullness of truth as it had been revealed up to that time. In this way the Jewish people were enlightened by comparison to the rest of the world that had a grasp only of those truths which could be comprehended from the world around them. They knew neither God nor any of the higher truths that had been revealed.
This put the Israelites in a unique and privileged position among all the peoples of the world. However, when one group lives differently from others, that first group is often singled out for persecution. This certainly happened throughout the history of the Jews. The Prophet Isaiah tells us that something new is going to take place and that all the nations will come to seek out the truth that was entrusted to the people of Israel. Those whose minds were dark due to a lack of truth would be enlightened.
From the passage in Isaiah it is difficult to say whether or not the people would have understood this as referring to the Messiah who would bring into the world, in His own Person, the fullness of truth and the most pure light. Regardless of the understanding that may have prevailed prior to our Lord’s appearance on earth, there can be no doubt about the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Gospel reading today makes it clear that the three Magi, as representatives of the nations, had come to seek out the newborn King of the Jews. They came seeking a natural born king, but their minds were enlightened as they fixed their gaze on this Child.
There was something different about Him. There was something that was simultaneously transparent and opaque that could not have been missed when they looked into the Baby’s eyes. There was a depth that could not be found in a “normal” human baby; in fact, there was a depth that could not be found in another human being. While that depth would have been evident at any point in our Lord’s life, it is not customary to stare into the eyes of an adult unless there is something of an intimate relationship. The same is not true with regard to babies. They are vulnerable, they are lovable, and everyone seems to feel the freedom, indeed, the invitation, to be vulnerable in return.
That vulnerability paid off for the wise men who were now filled with a heavenly wisdom. They sought an earthly king and found the King of Heaven. Once their minds were enlightened, their wills followed suit and they prostrated themselves before Him and worshiped Him. The mystery that had been known only to our Lady and St. Joseph was now revealed to the shepherds and the magi as representatives of the Chosen People and of the Gentiles respectively. This enlightenment, this manifestation is what we celebrate today and what St. Paul proclaims in the second reading: The Gentiles are now coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.