The Light of His Coming

“…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region of death light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16) Yesterday, we concluded our celebration of the Christmas season with the Feast of the Epiphany.  Actually, Matthew is the only Gospel writer who tells the story of the Magi, making their long journey, following the light of a star, to find the new-born king.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has gotten himself into a bit of trouble recently by using the word ‘legend’ to refer to this story! (Although I think he was actually referring to the non-biblical details – such as the number of wise men, their ethnic origins, and the precise details of their visit).

We celebrate the feast 12 days after that of the birth of Christ to underscore the fact that the Bible does not say that they arrived on the night of his birth, but some time later. Even the text says, “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage.” (Matthew 2:11) House, not stable. Perhaps they finally caught up with the Holy Family when they had returned to Nazareth before the flight to Egypt. Who knows?

The point of the story is clear and today’s Gospel text proclaims it: “…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region of death light has dawned.” Gentiles, represented by these Persian astrologers, seekers after truth in a very different context than the Jewish people, found that light and that truth in One who was born to be king – but a very different kind of king than those known to Gentiles or Jews!

Today, one day after the Feast of Epiphany, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Baptism of Christ and, of course, we will observe that festival next Sunday. And there is a real continuity with Epiphany.  Jesus was apparently made known to shepherds and wise men and a number of others from his earliest days. But the beginning, the “epiphany” of his public ministry was his baptism.

At the Jordan River, he was anointed by the Spirit of God. And there he heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). Immediately after that he was led by that same Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted and only after surviving that ordeal did he begin to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

I was writing about all this on this web log last week when a priest from Sweden named Anna wrote to ask if we believed that these events were only significant in Jesus’ life and ministry or if they were a “frame of reference for each and every person baptized in the Church today.” I said I thought they were both – but she makes an extremely important point.

When you and I were baptized, we too were given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. We pray very specifically for that in the baptismal liturgy and Jesus says that God would never deny the Holy Spirit to those who ask! In our baptism, God says to us also that we are  “Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We too will face temptation, if not immediately after our baptisms as Jesus did, surely in the days and years that follow.

And we too are sent into the world to preach repentance precisely because the reign of God has come near in the Christ event.

That which has happened to Christ must also happen to us. To those who are baptized in his Name.

“…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” That is the message of Epiphany.  But it will only come true if we, like our Lord, live into the implications of our baptismal covenant and hold high in our lives the Light of his Coming.       

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