Shadows can be dangerous things. Everyone has seen that in the stories that show us the power of darkness, or in the news about people stalked in big cities or brutalized in isolated places in the countryside. What is more, in every land there is a willful ignorance that kills. Ask any migrant or refugee seeking work, or fleeing the violence and injustice that never stop. Fear, Despair, and Death are everywhere. We have good reason to fear the power of malice.
All of this leads us to see why the Church celebrates the Lord’s epiphany. For day after day, the prophet says, the rising sun shines on Jerusalem. When it appears, whole nations can see a sign of God’s glory, God’s amazing visible power at work creating justice and peace. Then, in the nighttime sky, the Gospel says, magi see a brilliant star rising. It summons them to travel out of the shadows and into the light no darkness can overcome. Even in the court of a murderous king, they hear the Scriptures of Israel, which draw them a map to the home of the Child-King, who has come to bring the enlightenment and the peace they neither imagined nor expected. So there turns out to be more to the homage they do him than they can see when they open their treasures. For the magi are given a treasure beyond price. And when they go to their home country by a different route, they take with them the light that transforms their way of life.
Our dangerous world cannot smother God’s visible power. Anyone can wonder if that is true, of course. Even for Priests of Christ’s Heart, the notion may sound far too good to be true. All the more reason for being still and letting the Spirit work his grace deep within us. For the prophet has shown us the “thoughts [and plans] of God’s heart,” which are not bound by the cold, indifferent rules we take for granted. Jerusalem is meant to be the center of “a new creation,” where the unheard of is the “new normal.” Children will not be born to a life of terror and abuse. Rage and violence will no longer overcome the wisest people. Getting even with seventy-sevenfold interest will no longer be the policy of individuals, families or nations. For, thanks to the wondrous power of God’s love, there will go forth from Jerusalem the justice and peace that make mercy an amazing gift in the heart of the world. The word of the Lord has come down like the rain and the snow to carry out the mission for which it was sent, remember? God’s light has arisen at long last.
Today, then, we behold the consequences of revelation. They can be observed not only in the star that the magi see “at its rising,” but in the way they do “the newborn King of the Jews” homage. The magi adore their Lord and ours. They answer his love with love in return: surrendering their wills and their lives to “the thoughts of his heart.” Naturally, even though the story never tells us exactly what those wise people did next, anyone of us can imagine the turn their story took. Since the starlight was embedded in their minds and hearts, their thoughts now included forgiving others as they had been forgiven when they met the Child. Their thoughts now included sharing the peace and doing the justice that meeting the Child had instilled in them. Now, once they reached their homelands, their fearless witness had unforeseen results. Practicing justice and peace and forgiveness can get you killed, after all. We know that from reading or watching the daily news. Encounter “the Son of the living God” and adore him, and your life changes forever. You live by the thoughts of his heart, no matter the cost. Yet in and through the way of love, God’s grace and peace keep spreading in the midst of the world.