Turning on the light
A reflection for the Epiphany of the Lord, Year B
by Fr. Raphael Ma, CR
When somebody says they had an epiphany, they usually mean an “aha” moment, a sudden realization. In cartoons, this is when the light bulb turns on. And that’s not a bad image for today’s feast. Have you ever struggled to find something in the dark and only managed to find it after someone turned the light on for you?
This dynamic of darkness, light, and discovery is something that I think can help us to enter into what the celebration of the Epiphany is all about. The Greek root of the word Epiphany is phaínein
, which means to shine forth, to manifest, to appear, to bring to light. In different times and places this feast has celebrated a number of events where Jesus’ identity was made manifest – the Baptism of the Lord, the Wedding Feast of Cana, the Nativity, and the visit of the wise men from the East. For many of us in the Western world, we tend to associate the Epiphany with the visit of the wise men, which we see reflected in our readings.
In the case of the wise men, they literally saw a light, the star:
“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.
What a strange sight that must have been – the wise men and their retinue, gathered in and around what was likely just a small and simple house, kneeling before a Jewish carpenter, his wife, and her child. From all external appearances, it didn’t fit. But Jesus’ identity had been manifested to these wise men in a way that they could understand, in a way that led them on a journey to this moment.
And the passage ends almost as abruptly as it began:
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Have you ever wondered what became of the wise men? What was their journey home like? What did they talk about on the way? How did the rest of their lives unfold as a result of this encounter?
The journey home of the wise men is an image of the life of every Christian. We each have a story, we each have had some kind of epiphany, or epiphanies, ways in which Jesus manifested who He is to us in a way we could understand, in a way that put our life’s journey on another road. If it were not so, you wouldn’t be taking time to read this reflection, and I wouldn’t be writing it.
But perhaps it has been quite some time since Jesus manifested Himself to us in this way, and perhaps it is only a memory now. Perhaps other priorities have taken precedence, and we’ve since departed from that other road we once set off on. Perhaps we’re not even quite sure what road we’re on right now.
Like the wise men on their journey home, if we look to the sky, we won’t see the exact same star again. The star, our epiphany or epiphanies, whatever they involved, served their purpose. It was to draw our attention beyond appearances and circumstances, to discover, to recognize as the wise men did, the One who is the Light of the World.
And now that we have encountered the Light of the World, we are always able to return to that other road, no matter how much we may have drifted away. Reminding ourselves of who Jesus is to us, and why that matters, as well as looking to the other stars – the saints, those canonized and those not yet canonized – these “constellations of God” as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once referred to them
, our fellow travellers on our way to our true home.
The readings for the Epiphany of the Lord, Year B, are
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Fr. Raphael Ma, CR, was ordained in 2019, and is a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection. He is currently serving as associate pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Kitchener, Ontario.