It is the dead of winter now in the northern hemisphere. The days are short, the nights are long. Most of us like to be indoors early where it is warm and safe and light. Darkness is not appealing to us. Once the sun goes down the temperature begins to drop; the creatures of the night emerge; often crime takes place. We tend to associate danger with darkness. But in these readings the “danger” is in the light. It is light that brings us to encounter “the newborn king of the Jews.” It is the light of encounter that challenges us, offers us choice, changes us. We ought to run from the light. Instead, the magi embrace it. They follow it. They trust it. Darkness or light? Such stark contrasts. Which do we choose?
This gospel uncovers a number of contrasts: the magi-Gentiles from the east vs. Herod and the Jews of all Jerusalem; the light of the star that guided the magi vs. the darkness of Herod’s heart; the “newborn king of the Jews” thought to be found in Jerusalem, the home of Israel’s king vs. this Child being found in the small village of Bethlehem; Herod breeding evil in his heart to keep his power and status vs. the magi who paid homage and offered gifts to the Child. Searching for and finding the Christ necessitates a choice in face of contrasts: to accept or reject this new in-breaking of God. Further, there can be no encounter with Christ without a change in us.
Like the magi we, too, will find Christ if we search diligently. God also gives us a light that guides us. What leads us and prompts us to seek the divine is more than simple light, though; it is always God’s power to lead us to encounter the divine. The light is Christ, the Light of the world.
God leads us just as surely as the star led the magi to Bethlehem. We must choose to trust in God’s loving Presence and sure guidance. There will be inevitable setbacks and challenges as we struggle with following the light; our everyday lives are filled with obstacles and restlessness which can get us off track. We must “search diligently”: God and God’s will can be found in many circumstances of our family life, work, and leisure times. Sometimes we must change course and take “another way”: conversion is an ongoing milestone in Christian living.
This feast day of the Lord’s epiphany reminds us that the light of Christ is a diffuse one; it permeates all the world, diffuses salvation everywhere, and invites all people to live in the light. Our response: give of the treasure of our hearts. Give over our very selves to the light.