Now that we’ve made our good beginnings with the New Year and reached the end of the twelve days of Christmas, we stumble into my favorite season of the Church year, Epiphany.
Epiphany is a celebration of light and life in the darkest time of the year, recalling all the ways God has been revealed in the coming of Jesus, the Light of the World. If Advent was the season when we learned how to walk in the dark, and Christmas celebrated the dawning of new light in the world, Epiphany is the season when we bask in the light.
And as I prepared to write this post, I was excited to joyfully proclaim with the prophet Isaiah:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned! (Isa 9.2)
But yet, I’m just not feeling it today. When I look around me, I see friends, neighbours, family, and colleagues filled with fear and anxiety, depression, boredom, and exhaustion. It’s as though our culture is in a moment not unlike Narnia before the return of Aslan, “always winter but never Christmas,” a long night without dawn. The message of Epiphany — that the light has come — feels more relevant than ever, and yet simultaneously terribly out of touch. So what to do? What to say?
The feast of Epiphany itself — today, January 6 — commemorates, in Western practice, the visitation of the Magi, those Astrologer-Priests from “the East” who were guided to the infant Jesus by a star. As professional star-gazers, the magi — more than most — would have appreciated the darkness. Anyone who has ever tried to see the stars in a big city filled with artificial light can attest to just how important the darkness is in seeing them. They wouldn’t have seen the darkness as a bad thing; rather, it would have been precisely the darkness that would have allowed them to read the heavens, including seeing whatever astronomical phenomenon it was that led them West to Judea with their gifts. The light from the Star of Bethlehem did not eliminate the darkness; but it led the magi through the darkness, within it. And maybe this is the message about celebrating God’s light that I need to consider today.
The stunning introductory hymn in John’s Gospel ends by saying, of Jesus, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1.4-5). It doesn’t say “The light shines in the darkness, and the light has overcome the darkness,” but that darkness hasn’t overcome the light. To say that there is light in the world isn’t to deny darkness, but to relativize it. It isn’t some happy-clappy, sunny insistence that all is right in the world. Rather, in the symbolism of the season, we celebrate light at the darkest time of the year, not at the brightest. Why? Because now is the time when we need it most.
The promise of the coming of Jesus, the Light of the World, is not an end to sorrow and grief. It isn’t an end to pain and suffering. It isn’t an end to fear. For there are losses in this world we must grieve, wounds that are painful, and dangers legitimately to be feared. Rather, the promise of Jesus — the light of Epiphany that shines into the darkness — is that there is comfort in our sorrow, healing in our pain, and hope in our fear. And these things are just as real as the darkness. There is darkness in our world, but there is also light, and the darkness has not, does not, cannot, and will not overcome it.
And so, if you are struggling today, remember that there is hope. If you are weary, remember that there is rest. If you are in pain, remember that there is healing. If you are ashamed, remember that there is grace. If you are lonely, remember that there is love.
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you. (Isa 60.1ff)