Sunday, January 06, 2013

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
A Candle’s Choice

Picture: cc aussiegall

Sisters and brothers, some of you may still remember those 5 candles that were part of the Advent wreath placed in our sanctuary in the weeks leading up to Christmas. There was a white one, a pink one, and 3 purple ones. Do you perhaps wonder where these candles are now? Or what they look like? Very likely, wherever they are, they look far less pretty than they did before we set them alight. By now, their wicks, which were once so soft and white, will have become blackened and stiff. The tall elegant wax columns melted and misshapen. How do you think these candles are feeling now, if they could feel? And, if a new candle were to see what has happened to these used ones, what do you think the unused candle will say, if it could talk? What will it do, if it could move or walk?

I’m not sure, but I think there are at least two possible reactions. The first is that of fear. Having seen the terrible effects of fire on its friends, a new candle might say: Never! This will never happen to me! It may try its best to protect itself. To avoid ever being set alight. It may run away whenever a flame approaches. Or even try to put the fire out. Anything to avoid disfiguring its sleek solid body. In other words, the candle will be making a choice. It will choose to preserve its wax, rather than to submit to the flame. And, if it’s a smart candle, it might even find some way to make its wax increase. To make it grow so thick and so tall, that the wick is completely enclosed within. No longer exposed to the open air. Making it all the more difficult for someone to set the candle alight.

But it’s also possible that another new candle might have an opposite reaction. Not fear, but desire. Even after having seen and spoken to candles that have been used and discarded, a new candle might actually still want to be set alight. Why? Perhaps because such a candle realises that the whole reason for its existence is to be consumed by fire. So as to give light to those who live in the dark. Perhaps such a candle might have felt the strange inner emptiness, the curious restlessness, that comes with remaining pretty and elegant, but unused and unlit. So that, in contrast to the first candle–the one gripped by fear–this second one may eagerly go out of its way to look for the fire. To expose itself to the heat. To allow its wax to be consumed by the flame.

Fear and desire. Wax and flame. Two possible reactions. Two different choices that candles can make when facing the fire. And these too are also the reactions and choices that we find in our Mass readings today. As you know, the solemn feast of the Epiphany of the Lord is an important part of our celebration of Christmas. A celebration of how Christ our Light comes among us to enlighten not just the people of Israel, but the whole human race. As the second reading tells us, pagans now share the same inheritance... they are parts of the same body, and... the same promise has been made to them, in Jesus Christ. Or, in the words of our response to the psalm: all nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

But in order for the Light of Christ to spread to all people. those on whom it is already shining need to do what Jerusalem is being asked to do in the first reading. Arise, shine out, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord is rising on you… Like a candle that’s about to be set alight, all those on whom the light of Christ is already shining are being asked to submit themselves, in some way, to the flame. To allow themselves to burn. So that those who are still living in shadow might see and enjoy and be guided by the Light.

This invitation, however, is not easy to accept. It’s difficult, because there is a price that must be paid. A sacrifice that must be made. And not all are willing to pay the price. Not all are willing to make the sacrifice. Isn’t this what we find in the gospel? Notice what happens when a mysterious star begins to shine in the sky. The light from this heavenly flame provokes two contrasting reactions. On the one hand, not only are the wise men from the East filled with delight, they also take the trouble to drop whatever they’re doing and to travel a long distance, just to come close to the Light. They even spare no expense. They’re willing to give away their most precious possessions. And we may imagine that, having been set alight by their encounter with the baby Jesus, they return to their own country to share this same Light with all whom they meet. With all who may still be walking in the dark. Like the second candle we spoke about earlier, these wise men are willing to sacrifice the wax of their comfort and their material possessions. They’re eager to submit to Christ, the love and light of the Father. Christ, the divine yet human Flame.

King Herod, on the other hand, reacts very differently. In the gospel, we’re told that when the king receives news of the star’s appearance, he is perturbed. Not delighted, but disturbed. Disturbed because it was believed that a new star indicates the coming of a new king. And if a new king was coming, what was to become of the old one? Of Herod himself? To welcome the new king, the old one will have to give up his kingship. Much like a candle has to let go of its wax in the face of an approaching flame. But Herod is not willing to make the sacrifice. He refuses to pay the price. So he plots instead to have the child murdered. He goes all out to snuff out the Flame.

Delight and disturbance. Eager self-sacrifice and anxious self-preservation. These are the reactions that were provoked, the choices that were made, when the Light of Christ came into the world for the first time. And aren’t these still the reactions and the choices that remain open to us, sisters and brothers, even as the Light of Christ continues to enter into our world, and to shine upon our lives today?

Self-sacrifice or self-preservation. Isn’t this the choice that presents itself when, for example, crowded conditions and apparently diminishing job prospects lead a nation of immigrants to frown upon the many newcomers looking for a better life? To discriminate against them, and to treat them badly? Self-emptying sacrifice or self-serving ambition. Isn’t this the choice that presents itself too when career-minded people are suddenly led to see that their obsession with accumulating worldly possessions, and with achieving earthly success, is taking a serious toll not only on their own physical, mental and spiritual health, but also on the wellbeing of their families and communities?

Sisters and brothers, on this solemn feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, much like a burning match might approach an unused candle, the Light of Christ continues to draw near to us. How ready are we to submit to its fire? How willing are we to be set alight by its flame today?


  1. I'll ask myself, "What is my ultimate goal in leading a Christian life?" Instead of focussing on the immediate needs that most of us are facing, such as materials, wealth and enjoyment, can they bring us to the life that we want to lead? I do not think so. For me, my ultimate goal in leading a Christian life is to be able to bring peace, love and joy to my family.

    How can I work towards this goal will be whether am I willing to empty my pride, be humble and patient towards people. It is through His living words that I learnt to be tamed and slowly empty my pride out. If I cannot change others, what I can do is to change myself and in turn bring that peace and joy to them. In John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

    "Arise, shine out, Jerusalem, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord is rising on you," Each time, when I feel weak, I will lookout for his words and body to give me strength. His light for guidance and fortitude.

  2. Self-emptying sacrifice or self-serving ambition? I honestly admit that I would not pick the self sacrifice option if possible. And it's not because I'm ambitious. I just don't want to be burnt alive. It's a scary thought to put yourself out there, and be set "aflame". I guess I don't have enough faith ...

    1. Pray for courage & wisdom. Always ask for God's help to guide you. As Jesus said to his disciples, "Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!". Keep your heart and mind open for His grace to flow in.

      Peace be with you

  3. Self-emptying - Kenosis - as seen in Jesus' life - where even though He is God, HE EMPTIED HIMSELF for us - and in obedience to His Father, He chose to be burnt (both ends) as a candle - ready to be placed near the flame..

    indeed, such courage and selflessness seems to be of Christ - something divine - something which is beyond our human nature...

    yet, in FAITH, and with the grace of God, we can all be candles willing to be burnt for the greater glory of God - to be instruments of God's Peace for others. this, we can only BE, if we learn to focus on God, in faith, and not on ourselves.

    Lord, may we be YOUR LIGHT, as we surrender our lives to you, to let YOU use us as your instruments of Peace.

    Make me a Channel of Your Peace - St Francis of Assisi has lived this kind of life in total trust in God - and many others have followed suit in the Franciscan way.. likewise St Ignatius of Loyola too have shown us the way to God...

    let us emulate them and dare to trust God to lead us on His way - for this is only way to true peace and joy.

    Peace and All Good

  4. the flame that shines brightest in the deepest of darkness is one that had been through challenging moments and it is a matured flame that knows how appreciates the LIGHT OF GOD over every form of darkness..

    likewise, a person who has been touched by God, someone who been through tough and challenging moments in life - this same person would be like the candle shining ever so brightly in a dark room, and it's like the most brillant of stars shining in the darkest of nights.

    he/she who is familiar with pains and sufferings and who had experienced the cross in the deepest darkness - he/she will empathise and show compassion to others who are suffering - provided this person has transended his/her own pains and have become a better (not bitter) person.

    i believe God uses our moments of pains and sufferings (our times of deepest darkness) to bring out the best in us - IF ONLY we allow God to work in and through us, for after all, God is the potter and we are merely the clay in HIS HANDS ....

    as in Romans 8:28 - by turning everything to their good God cooperates with all those who love Him, with all those He has called to His purpose.

    are we willing to be used by God for His greater glory?

    May the Lord grant you His Peace. Pax et Bonum.

  5. Not many of us dare or willing to be set ablaze by it's flame, but Father Jolly did. He did the most amazing self-sacrifice, emptying by helping the poorest of the poor in South Sudan. From a nothingless, torn in civil war town, he brought hope, joy and life to the Sudanese. Despite his terminal illness, he did his best to give hope to the Sudanese children. When got asked by many people on why he did this, he said there's a beautiful scent that has had an impact on his life, "Jesus said, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me". Father Jolly not only set alight by Christ's flame, but he had also spread this flame to the lives of the poor.

  6. What happens when I hold a mirror to my face, and see in my own eyes the place of desire mingled with fear?
    I see conflict and contradictions: desire to be one with others by losing self-preservation,AND fear of being one with others by resisting self-sacrifice.
    Who will rescue me from such an unhappy choice? Only the gaze of the Infant Christ can penetrate my fears to the place of longing- to belong and be loved, to be melted by Love.

    Keeping God at a distance,
    that's what keeps me safe!
    I'm not good at holding an infant
    to my clumsy, awkward heart.
    How do I embrace the Infant
    who longs to embrace me?
    How do I keep safe my God
    who longs to keep me safe?
    How do I behold the One
    who wants to behold me,
    and show me to myself?
    No. Let me keep my distance
    from the eyes who see me,
    the heart who loves me,
    the arms who reach for me....
    I am not ready to know the real me
    by first holding the Infant You.....


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