Arise! Shine! For your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
These are some of the most joyous words in all of the Scriptures. And these are the words upon which we are asked to reflect on this great and holy feast of the Epiphany.
Historically speaking, Epiphany, literally ‘the Shining Forth’, was the second greatest celebration of the Church year (Easter always rightly took first place), and it celebrated all of the ways God is revealed to us in the person of Jesus — his birth, the visitation of the Magi, his presentation in the Temple, his baptism in the Jordan, and so on. Eventually, they found that no one festal day could contain all this joyous celebration, and so the feast spilled over into the weeks before after, giving us this beautiful and celebratory stretch of time from Christmas through until the start of Lent. All this to say, Epiphany is a big deal. So in keeping with this sentiment, I wonder how we might — to paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge — “honour Epiphany in our hearts, and try to keep it all the year”?
If you were hoping for a fresh new message from me to start this fresh new year, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. Today’s message is not new, but I trust, always true and always timely: We honour and keep Epiphany by gratefully receiving this Light of God in Christ and then becoming all flame and shining that same Light out into the world.
It’s there right in those four short lines from Isaiah. “Arise! Shine!” These are commands: The coming of the light and rising of God’s glory demand a response. God’s glory has been revealed, so if you’re laid low in desolation, Arise! God’s Light is shining into the world, so if you’ve been snuffed out, Shine! Stand up! Let yourself be seen!
The prophet continues, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together.” The light of the people of God is to shine so brightly and beautifully that it draws in those on the outside. This is paradigmatically represented in the Christmas-Epiphany story by the Visitation of the Magi, those wise men from the East, who, though not part of God’s covenant people, had eyes to see, and followed the bright light of a star to visit the infant Jesus. Unsurprisingly, this is the story recorded in today’s Gospel reading. It says:
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Mt 2.10-11)
The revelation of God in Jesus shone brightly and attracted outsiders. As Jesus grows up, he continues to shine, and through his teaching and healing, again attracts those on the outside — yes, foreigners like the Magi, the Syrophoenician woman, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Roman centurion, but also the poor, the hungry, those not in their right mind, Roman collaborators and profiteers, and sex workers.
And Jesus’ example is our vocation.
Jesus would later describe it like this:
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Mt 5.14-16)
And so, on this bright and beautiful feast of the Epiphany, may we all receive God’s revelation with grace and thanksgiving, and shine that gracious light for all the world to see. May we be like a city on a hill, and a lamp on a lampstand. May we let our light shine before others.
And in so doing, may we all honour Epiphany in our hearts, and try to keep it all the year.
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