Sunday, January 07, 2007

Note: The following homily was preached in 2006.

Bearers and Seekers of the Light

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Sisters and brothers, for some strange reason, today’s readings remind me of a game that we used to play in childhood. It was a game of make-believe where each of us would pretend to be a character from the comic-strip Batman and Robin. What we did in the game depended on the particular role we chose. I don’t remember exactly what each of us actually did, but I do remember that after a while, it got a bit boring, and we stopped playing the game. On hindsight, this was probably because each of us always ended up playing the same part. Come to think of it, part of the problem for me may have been the fact that I always ended up playing the Joker. I suspect that the game would have survived a little longer if, just once or twice, I could have played Batman, or even Robin.

What bizarre connection could these stray memories of mine have to our readings today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord? As we know, today’s feast celebrates the manifestation of Christ the Light to all the peoples of the world represented today by the Wise Men in the gospel story. The question we might ask is, so what? What implications does the Light’s coming have in my life? What ought I to do? I think this is where we might draw on the Batman-game analogy. Our proper response to the Epiphany, what we ought to do, depends upon the role that we choose to play. In particular the readings present us with two main roles. What are they?

First, we should notice that when the Light comes, it doesn’t come to everyone in every place. Instead, God seems to delight in choosing very particular places and people. The Light comes to them. They receive it. But it is meant not just for them but for all. The Light is only entrusted to them. They are called to be bearers of the Light for others. So, in the first reading, Jerusalem is described as the privileged location of the Light’s coming. And all peoples will stream to her. What she is told to do is not to be bashful but to arise and shine out because above you the Lord now rises and above you his glory appears.

In the gospel, Jerusalem is replaced by the insignificant town of Bethlehem in Judaea, which becomes the honored birthplace of Christ the Messiah. And it is to Bethlehem that the Wise Foreigners come in search of the Light.

In the second reading, the privileged place becomes a privileged person. For Paul describes himself as having been entrusted by God with the grace… meant for the Ephesians. He sees it as his mission and responsibility to bear witness to the Ephesians that God’s love and compassion in Christ is meant also for them, and for all the pagans.

Clearly, then, to celebrate Epiphany well, we Christians must accept our role as privileged bearers of the Light. We must allow the Light who is Christ to shine out in us, so as to illuminate the night (that) still covers the earth and the darkness (that still covers) the peoples – the darkness of poverty and disease, of loneliness and anxiety, of sin and unbelief. For this is what the light comes to do. As we heard in the responsorial psalm, he shall save the poor when they cry and the needy who are helpless. He will have pity on the weak and save the lives of the poor. If we wish to remain in the Light, if we wish to really experience the effects of His coming, we must be bearers of the Light for others. In particular, we might ask ourselves how conscious we are of our responsibility to help bring others to Christ, to speak to them about Christ, or at least to bear witness to Christ through the way in which we live and work.

But isn’t there also another side to the story? Just as my childhood playmates and I got stuck in playing the same roles all the time, is it not also possible to become too caught up in the role of being a privileged bearer of the Light? Is it not tempting to think that we, either as individual Christians, or as a Church, are in full and absolute possession of the Light, such that our sole mission in life is to lead others into the light, to teach them the truth, to give them the answers to every conceivable question that life might pose? Of course, it is an essential tenet of our faith that in Christ we have the fullness of revelation. But the question we might ask is whether or not, at any given moment in time, we can truly claim to be in absolute possession of the fullness of Christ? Or is it not also true that we remain a pilgrim Church, a people still very much on the way into the full brilliance of the Light? Is it not also true that there remains much for us to learn, and many more questions for us to ask and ponder? And is it not the case that when we become fixated on our role as bearers of the Light, we run the risk of becoming like Herod in the gospel? He and his scribes possessed the knowledge to predict where the Light was to be born, but not the humility to venture forth and worship Him themselves.

If this is conceded, then, it becomes important to consider yet another role presented to us in the readings of today: the role played by the Wise Men in the gospel, the role of seeker of the Light. And to play this role well, we need to notice its characteristics. We need to see the wisdom and humility which allows the Wise Men to recognize and seek the Light in a foreign land, to ask directions from foreign scribes, and to follow the instructions of a foreign king, even as they discerned and guarded against his treachery. We need to see the generosity that prompted them to bring gifts – gifts precious not just in themselves, but in the way in which they expressed so eloquently, what the Light meant to those who brought them. We need also to see the courage and commitment which sustained the Wise Men on their long journey from the East and back again.

But what does it mean for us to be seekers of the Light? To consider this question is also to consider where the Light might be found in our world today. Could it be that the Light is recognizable even in those whom we generally consider to be in the dark? Could we find the Light – if even only a ray of it – in those of other religions, for example, or, God forbid, even in the Protestants?! If that is indeed true, we might ask ourselves what we are doing, as individuals and as a community, to actively seek out the Light that might be found elsewhere than in what is most familiar. I am reminded, for example, that the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is only slightly more than a week away. How will we be taking advantage of that time to seek out the Light in our fellow Christians of other denominations?

My sisters and brothers, could it be possible that to celebrate Epiphany well we require something that would have made my childhood game of Batman and Robin more interesting: the skill that enables us simultaneously to play and balance between the dual roles of bearer and seeker of the Light? Could it even be the case that we really become better bearers of the Light to the extent that we are also good seekers? My childhood game of Batman and Robin did not survive very long, but the drama of our life of faith continues. In this drama, which role do we play well? Which role do we need to play better? How can we become better bearers and seekers of the Light?

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