Epiphany is the season of light. Eastern religions aim toward a spiritual state of enlightenment. Christianity calls it illumination. It means seeing through the smoke and mirrors of worldly values to appreciate what truly matters, something that cannot be put into words but we call it God, and when God comes among us humanly, we call him Christ.
The basic illumination Gospel story is the journey of the Magi who set out to follow the Star of Wonder, Star of Night. They wanted to follow the Way, see the Truth, and live the Life. Matthew tells their story as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy of illumination. Arise shine for your light has come . . .. In chapter 60, Isaiah prophesies that those who see the light will respond with gifts of gold and frankincense. Matthew agrees and adds myrrh.
Truth and giving, light and generosity. From Isaiah to Matthew, they go hand in hand. But it is not a quid pro quo. The Magi’s gifts are not an admission fee to see the Christ child. Their gifts are a spontaneous reaction to their encounter with him. When we see through the smoke and mirrors values that make us prisoners of what we supposedly possess – but which really possesses us – it sets us free to give as God gives, freely and joyfully. Our hands open and our hearts lighten at the same instant.
The Church invites us each Epiphany to follow the star, to see the light, to glimpse a bit of truth, and glimpsing that truth to delight in generosity as an act of freedom in Christ, to open our hands and lighten our hearts.
1. The Magi gave their gifts in response to seeing the Light of Christ. But they carried those gifts a long way first, as if they had a longing to give. Do you feel a burden that could be lightened by generosity? What holds you back?
2. The Magi’s gifts were not practical for the baby son of a carpenter. If the gifts were not practical, what made them holy enough to be listed by Isaiah and Matthew? Something to do with the heart of the giver?
3. The Church today is held in low esteem by most of society, as Galilee was held in low esteem when Jesus was born there. Isaiah stresses the unholiness of Galilee. What would it take to open our eyes to see Christ in an all too human Church and worship him with gifts that are tokens of our very lives? Do we want our eyes to be opened? Why might we want to see the light? Why might we hesitate?