Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2: 1-12

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Can you hear what I hear in the opening lines of Isaiah today? "Rise up in splendor Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you." I hear a sigh of relief and even a word to accompany the sigh, "Finally!" As I write this I am sitting in the Dallas airport waiting for my plane to pull up to the gate. It is late! When it comes I too will give a sigh of relief and say to myself, "Finally!" When I sit in a doctor’s office waiting for a doctor who is late and he or she finally arrives, I say to myself, "Finally!"

But the relief Isaiah stirs is much more profound. The people have finally returned from years of exile in Babylon. Now they face the difficult task of rebuilding the economic, political and religious structures they will need to become a unified nation. They cannot accomplish these tasks on their own, the labors ahead of them will be long and arduous. Isaiah is promoting a vision for the people of what Jerusalem will be – not yet, but someday. The vision will help sustain them when their tasks seem impossible to accomplish.

The prophet promises that the city will be a light in an otherwise dark world. That light will draw other people to the city and to their God. "They will gather and come to you." In other words, after their long wait, suffering and confusion, relief will come to the people when the vision they are being given is fulfilled. The they will be able to breathe a sign of relief and say "Finally,"

But all that will not be a result of their own efforts. If they are to shine a light that will draw others to the Holy City it will be God’s doing – the God who will draw them out of slavery and lead them to their homeland. It is difficult to wait when the times are difficult and there are no signs that the present struggle will end well. What will sustain the people as they struggle to build a just and lasting nation? The prophet promises God will be their sustenance.

Indeed, the prophet is telling the people God is already bringing about the promised transformation despite the surrounding darkness. We believe that the prophet’s vision is fulfilled through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The darkness of sin, disruption and alienation among people has been pierced by his light. Through our baptism we are bearers of the light and that light is available to the world through the lives of Christ’s disciples in the community of the Church.

The narrative of Christ’s birth is a lovely story. As families enter the church during the Christmas season children will tug at their parents’ hands anxious to go directly to the Nativity scene at the side of the altar. And so is should be, even children are drawn to the Christ child. The story of the gift-bearing magi from the East, who followed the light of the star to do homage to the child is more than a lovely, heart warming tale to evoke cozy memories of our childhood. The subsequent, fuller infancy narrative is Matthew’s way of showing Christ as the new Moses. For like Moses, the life of the child will be threatened by another tyrant. Herod has no plans to go and do homage to the child. Later Pilate will bring about Jesus’ execution. God protected Moses and God will protect the child. But later the powers of darkness will seem to triumph – but only temporally. Like Moses, who led the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt, Jesus, by his death and resurrection will deliver us from the darkness of sin and bring us into the light of new life.

The Magi did not unload their camels, dismiss their porters and settle down in Bethlehem to continue their homage to the Christ child. Matthew makes it sound as if they did homage to the child, quickly got up off their knees and then moved on. Maybe they went home to tell their families and friends about their journey and how the star guided them through the nights – you can’t see stars when there is plenty of light. Maybe we shouldn’t be terrified by the darkness in our world and our lives because, if God is true to form, a light will appear in the dark and keep us on track as we travel together.

We don’t know what changes discovering Jesus made in the Magi’s lives. They would have to reflect on their experience and adjust their lives to what they saw and learned from their journey. And so do we. No one can tell us exactly what shape our Christian discipleship should take. We do know that we did not take it upon ourselves to get up to go to Christ. Paul frequently reminds us – we were in darkness until God shone the light of Jesus into our hearts. We make the faith journey to him and now we travel "by another way."

As we leave church and the crib scene today we have confidence that no darkness we face can put out the light that burns within us. Hear Isaiah’s promise, "Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow." Shall we resolve to continually turn toward the light we have seen, bow down to worship and then carry the light again into the world?

The Magi’s quest reminds us that throughout our lives we are continually searching for God. We can never settle back into a comfortable piety and complacency, even though we feel we have "found God." There is more up ahead – pack up and keep searching.

We need to also respect the journey of sincere others; even when their way differ from ours. The truth is too big for any of us to claim to have it all. God can not be grasped totally in my two hands, no matter how big they are. Let’s kneel and do homage today to the eternal and holy One who comes to us in the form of a child, but then grows into adulthood and invites us to follow the One we call, the Light of the World.

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