“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” The words God addressed through the prophet’s lips first to Israel are redirected at Epiphany. No longer is the ‘you’ God calls ‘you’ a race, or ‘you’ a nation, but you, just you, whoever, wherever, whatever you are. In the shining forth of the glory of God, the Old Covenant is transfigured into the New: no more the birthright of just one race or nation, but opened to the whole Creation. At Epiphany, the Church of the Jews, a Church of one people, gives birth to the Church we call “Catholic” – which means universal, complete, without exception, the Church that is given for all.
“His glory shall be seen upon thee, and the Gentiles shall come to thy light.”
The first to come and pay the Christ-child homage were not the rabbis, so versed in the wisdom of the Law, nor the high priests who tended the altar. It was the Magi, gentiles, uncircumsized, impure acolytes of a foreign creed and wisdom. Yet ultimately, it was not their wisdom that led them there. Their lifetime of searching and study was not for nothing- it directed their gaze, pointed them straight along the way. But what finally led them to Christ was that light which shone from the guiding star. In Cambridge especially, we might mark St Paul’s adage that ‘knowledge puffs up: love builds up.’ The wise men’s learning is of value only in opening their hearts to look for God; but it is He, only He who guides them with the radiance of His love.
“Thy people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.”
God says that we shall all be righteous, that we shall inherit the Kingdom, the promised land. But not through any branch of our planting, not through the work of our own hands.
Our branch has been grafted onto the vine of Jesse, taking root in the same venerable soil. But it is God who planted, God who tends the vine. Do not think that we deserve the glory He has shown us, or that we have a right to the Kingdom he bequeathes. Whatever our learning, our so-called virtues, even the wisest Magi could not find Christ without the guiding of the star. God’s glory is a gift that He gives for free. Divinity beyond all space and time gives itself in human flesh and form, one child, one man, to sanctify all Creation: to make all people righteous and guide them to the promised land.
The light the Magi sought and saw with mortal eyes in the star and the face of the newborn child we must seek and see with eyes of faith. We will find it in the Holy Scriptures and teachings of the Church. We will find it in the illumination that Christian baptism brings. We will find it at the altar, in the living sacrament of body and blood. And we must pray to be immersed in it, consumed and guided by that glory, to see it shine in everything around: to see the image of God’s glory without exception in the face of every creature, every person He has made. Then, like a mirror, we too will begin to shine with that same glory; and to show forth Christ’s Epiphany in our own lives.