In these times when attacks pose threats, it is important not simply to respond to crises but even more so to try to prevent them. Those who can find hidden signs and can intercept secret information are highly valued, for their skill in detection can play an important role in warding off disasters. Ancient astrologers found their clues by reading the stars. Modern agents carry out their detective work by intercepting messages, paying attention to unusual behaviors, and so on. They are astute observers of the way humans act and so come to be seen as people with special insight—an insight that seems to give them knowledge that most do not have.
King Herod summoned the chief priests and the scribes to give him advice. Astrologers from the East informed him of a new king in his land. Like the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus, King Herod was anxious about potential rivals in his land. He wanted counsel from his advisors, for they were supposed to be well-informed about the prophecies concerning a Messiah. Herod also tried to recruit the visiting astrologers as his informers. They were to go to the newborn king and then bring him a report, using their knowledge and skill to build a safety net around Herod so that he might maintain his hold on power.
Light shines ever more brightly and dramatically when it emerges from darkness. Whether it is a brightly shining star against a dark nighttime sky or the dawning sunlight that makes the night retreat quickly—these instances of light over darkness point to similar moments in our experience. Good news can brighten our day and quickly banish darkness. Good deeds by others can make our own lukewarm efforts stand out. Within this interplay of light and shadow, of good news and threat, of hope and despair, our lives unfold. Sometimes it seems that light and darkness are at war with one another; at other times, light and darkness play off one another to bring about a revealing balance. Bad times can make us live more fully in good times.
The light that really counts, the light that transforms—this light comes from God. We know what it is like for communities to go through dark times. We too know what it is like to see our hopes and aspirations about to be swallowed up by darkness. The light that scatters our darkness will not be a light of our own making. It will be a light from the Lord that will enliven us but at the same time will reflect off us and become a source of inspiration for others.
When we look for signs of a better future, we also turn to others. We observe how they act, how they treat others, how they handle success, how they handle disappointment. All of these observations give us insight into what people around us value and even what makes them tick. Their good deeds become a lamp on a stand that gives light to the whole house. We get a sense of how God is working in their lives. These moments of light—these moments of inspiration—can combine to become the light of the world.
As we offer our gifts on this Epiphany Sunday, let us be mindful of God’s secret plan in Christ, the mystery in which God’s choosing brings about the good. It is God’s choosing that brings about the transformation for which we long.
Reflection by Dale Launderville, OSB, presented for your consideration.