By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Called to be Light

In recent days the liturgies of the Christmas season have announced the birth of Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God, born in time of the Virgin Mary. The Scripture texts of our celebrations have recalled the announcement to Mary, to Joseph and to the shepherds the wondrous news that their long-awaited Messiah had come to them in this child. On Sunday, the feast of the Epiphany, we were given an “epiphany”, a revelation, of the grand scope of the saving purpose for which God sent His Son. Jesus has come not only as the Messiah of the Jewish people, but also as the Saviour of the world. Epiphany is the manifestation of God’s saving plan, namely, to unite all peoples of the world into one in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is to this mystery of universal salvation that St. Paul is referring when he says: “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (cf. Ephesians 3: 2-3, 5-6).

Long ago, the prophet Isaiah had foretold this unifying intervention of God in history by speaking of nations gathering from far and wide, drawn together by the light of God’s presence. Using images appropriate to his day, he says: “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (cf. Isaiah 60:1-6). In other words, God will act in history to bring about the unity of all people, gathered together in one act of praise and worship.

The Gospel for the feast of the Epiphany (cf. Matthew 2:1-12) announces that the centre of God’s plan of salvation is the child born of Mary. To Jesus the magi are drawn. Before Jesus they bow down in worship, offering their gifts. These wise men are not Jewish. They come from foreign lands, thus representing that the vision of universal salvation given by Isaiah is to be fulfilled in Christ. Their gifts of gold and frankincense signify adoration and worship; Jesus is God and king. The gift of myrrh, a perfume used in the anointing of bodies for burial, is a symbolic anticipation of the death by which this child would save the world. This child is, indeed, born of the Jewish people. Yet he is revealed as the saviour of all, your saviour and mine, the saviour of the world.

One cannot recall the story of the visitation of the wise men and not think of the fascinating image of the star. Perhaps more than any other in this story, the image of the star has captured the imaginations of men and women through the centuries. By the light of this star, the wise men were led to Christ. Today is a fitting occasion to give thanks to God for the “light” by which each of us was led to our saving encounter with the Lord. Perhaps it was by the light of parental example that we found Christ. Many of us were brought to the Church as infants by our parents for union with the Lord in baptism, and then taught by them to love and serve Christ as the way of salvation. Perhaps we were led to the Lord by the light of charity extended by Christians to people in need. The witness of love draws us to its source, who is Christ. Perhaps we came to Christ by the light of the Scriptures. The words of truth in the sacred texts fully satisfy the human search for meaning and direction and summon us to membership in the Church. In these and many other ways, the Holy Spirit gives us a light which leads us to the one, true Light, Jesus Christ. On this feast we offer our prayers of profound thanks to the Father for leading us to His Son and giving us life in Him.

Yet not only does this feast move us to gratitude for the light by which we have come to Christ. It also impels us to mission, to be “light” for those who are seeking the Saviour. In the Gospel, God assigns to a star the task of leading the representatives of the nations to His Son. Now, that mission has been entrusted to the Church. As a member of Christ’s Body, each of us is called to be a light which will lead the men and women of our day to the Lord. Christ has come for all, yet so many have yet to know him. He has come to give unity, yet barriers of hostility continue to divide peoples and nations. He has come as the light of truth, but the darkness of moral confusion still causes many to stumble. There is a deep yearning in the human hearts of today for peace and happiness, a longing that is ultimately a hunger for God. This yearning is only fulfilled by encountering Jesus Christ. We are called to be the light which leads others to Him.

We fulfil this role by the holiness of our lives. Living with integrity and joy the consequences of our baptism, we shine out as a light which draws men and women to Jesus Christ. Sin dims the light and weakens the credibility of our witness. The importance of our mission, then, calls us to constant self-examination. For example, we could ask: Is there anything of King Herod in my heart? He was frightened by the news of Christ’s birth, recognizing in the child a threat to his rule. In what ways am I resistant to the rule of Christ in my heart? Am I ruled more by my own selfish desires than by His plan of love? Or I could ask: Am I like the chief priests and scribes? They told Herod that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, yet they were indifferent to the news of Christ’s birth and made no effort to go to him and see for themselves. In what ways am I indifferent to the good news of the Gospel? Have I grown complacent, no longer seeking to be more deeply converted to the Lord? Such questions cannot be avoided if we are to be faithful to the call to lead others to Christ. When we examine our lives with humble confidence in His mercy, He will transform us by His love and enable us to be a light of hope in our world.