Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you. – Isaiah 60:1-2
The Christmas season ends with Epiphany, the revealing of Who Jesus Christ is through the arrival of the Magi when Jesus was young, and then in His Baptism as an adult. Both of those are extremely important events in Jesus’ life, and both teach us something about who we are. I’m not sure how much you keep up with the Christian calendar, but Epiphany and the Baptism of Our Lord were celebrated over two weeks ago. Of course, the plan was to write meditations about those in a timely manner. The only part of the plan that has changed is that I am now writing the meditations in an untimely manner. Ah, the best laid plans…
Life is hectic, which is unexpected since I stay at home for the most part, but still, there is more to do than I have time (or health) to do. Some people decide on a course, and their focus never wavers. I do not. Instead, I’m easily distracted and often go from one project to the next without finishing any. Whether you are as I am or are one of those people with fixed attention, daily living is demanding. Many people, interests, projects, jobs, and more compete for our attention every single day.
Epiphany essentially means a revelation: something that could not be known is revealed. The celebration of Epiphany revolves around the revelation of Who the Babe was based on the Magi who came to worship Him. Much is known about the story of the visit of the Magi, but a lot is speculation as well. From where in the East did they come? How many Magi actually visited, and how old was Jesus when they visited? Why did they come? But what interests me the most is this: why did no others see or recognize the significance of the star? Ancient accounts report from three to twelve Magi came from various areas around Persia, but with a population above forty million, it seems like there would be more than a dozen curious wise men in Persia. And if the Magi saw the star that led them to Judea and to Herod, who sent them on to Jerusalem, then why didn’t Herod recognize a major event had taken place?
So often we hear the Gospel and forget how utterly strange it is. Some theologians and biblical scholars suggest the star was actually a comet, and for all I know, maybe it was. But have you ever seen a comet shine on a particular place as it passed by the earth? The whole account is odd. Why would these men visit a Jewish Child in Bethlehem, of all places? This was a trip that took months. Perhaps most importantly, why did none of the Jewish priests and leaders recognize the signs of God’s salvation?
The prophet Isaiah wrote that, although thick darkness covers the earth, the light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us. He refers not so much to physical realities as to spiritual realities. We live in a darkness of heart, mind, and especially soul, although the light of Christ is given to us and the glory of God surrounds us. I would make two observations about that. First, the problem with light shining into darkness is that what is hidden in the dark becomes visible. Perhaps you are more virtuous than I, but there is a lot within me that I would just as soon not be seen. Second, we are, as were the ancients, so busy with daily demands, with all that seems urgent in our own lives, and with all the important things we can see in the world, that we fail to notice the presence and activity of God in our midst.
Truly, in the Incarnation, God revealed Himself to the world. He made His presence known, and forever altered how we are to see and understand what is real. What we see is not all there is, and to take this world as our measure is to live in darkness. Yet, we do it all the time. It’s not that I do not think this world matters. This is the world God created; it matters more than we can even guess! But this is not all there is, and that which is beyond what our eyes can see is also in our midst, in our lives, and surrounding us. Everything that seems so urgent must be weighed against the whole of reality – all that is, seen and unseen.
Before the last presidential election took place, I stopped watching the news. That’s awful in the sense that we probably ought to know what is happening in the world, but I confess, the political campaigns nearly made me lose my religion. Not knowing what was going on seemed the better choice. Throughout the interminable presidential campaign, especially once it was narrowed to two candidates, all I could think was, “Y’all have more years behind you than you do before you. I’m thinking you ought to be considering what you sound like to Jesus as you get closer and closer to meeting Him.” Of course, that wasn’t their interest. They wanted to hold the most powerful office on earth, regardless of what they had to say or do to attain it. That, right there, is the darkness that covers the earth. One day, they will die – as will we all – and all the power on earth won’t matter anymore. Nations rise and fall. Many powerful leaders have lived and died in history, and we do not even care who they were or what they did. No doubt they thought they were important when they lived. It’s really a rather moot point now, though, they are still forgotten.
When we cease to look beyond the physical boundaries of our lives, we lose the vision necessary to see God. All of those people circled around Jesus’ birth, from the Jews to Herod and the Romans to the Persian Empire, but only a tiny few saw the signs; only a handful saw the King of kings, the light and glory of our salvation. If we content ourselves with the known darkness that shades us from Christ’s light, then we will pursue the ends we desire at the cost of our souls, even if the ends are relatively benign.
To be fully human, authentically human, our lives must be lived out in the fullness of reality, even if we do not know or understand all. Living in the mystery of God that stretches beyond our limits of knowing is the price we pay for being fully human, for to be human is not to be God. Because we are not God, living in His light inevitably reveals the darkness within us. Yet, the same light and glory shatter the darkness within us, as well, setting us free to be fully alive, to be fully human.
What we see depends a great deal upon what we are looking for, and the light that shines upon us and the glory that surrounds us are not visible unless we are looking. As Christians, every day and in all circumstances, we need to look for the light of Christ and the glory of God poured out in our lives and in our world. Through these, God grants us the perspective necessary to live purposeful, meaningful lives, as well as victorious and joyful lives, regardless of vagaries of the world in which we live. Sometimes, life is good. Sometimes, it’s awful. But this world is not the measure of our lives, and we must be looking if we hope to see God here. He is, but only if we have eyes to see.
What do you see? Do you see only the physical world around you? There is more. The light of Christ shines upon us, and the glory of God rises in our midst. Do you see that? This week, make every effort not to be so distracted by the busyness of life – both good and bad – that you fail to look for Christ among us. Give the demands of your life proper perspective in the light of Christ, and let the plague of urgency be kept in perspective by touching eternity in prayer and worship. If you do these things, you will surely see the light of Christ in your life and the glory of God rising upon you.
In Christ –
© 2018 SFC