The Light of Epiphany/Theophany
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Hatred, anger, and violence. Cheating, corruption and greed. Impurity, lust and uncontrolled sex. Self-centeredness, self-love, and self-interest. These all seem to be a part of our so-called progressive, “enlightened” society. Although we live in an age of unbelievable technological, medical and scientific advances, and live in a world where we have greater freedom than ever before in history, still the same centuries-old vices of humanity continue to plague us - the darkness of greed, hatred, anger, lust, self-righteousness, self-centeredness and self-love.
We hear the words in the Gospel, “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light. On those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen!”
In the midst of this world’s darkness, we Christians hear Jesus Christ proclaim loudly and boldly, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
What a great promise of hope to carry with us throughout this new year and throughout our entire lives. Jesus promises, “Whoever follows me, will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
You see, in a secular worldview, where the humanist places the human being at the center of life, he or she faces a very serious dilemma. How can they understand the evil in the world? What do they do with the darkness that they see all around them? How can they find meaning in life itself from such a worldview where man is at the center of everything? If we accept no outside guiding force, no eternal standard, no ultimate reality beyond ourselves and our own desires, than where will we end?
For too many, we will end life with the same attitude of many famous atheists, like Nieztche or Freud. Although they were brilliant men, they became disillusioned with the meaninglessness of life, and ultimately committed suicide since they couldn’t bear the darkness around them.
As followers of Jesus Christ, and members of His holy church, our Lord offers each one of us a radically different perspective on life. Jesus promises us a life full of light, full of love, full of joy, full of promise, full of hope, full of meaning. “I have come that you may have life,” Jesus promised, “and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10)
Now, this doesn’t mean that life will not have its struggles. We live in a world of darkness, and evil will abound in a variety of forms. So yes, we will have struggles, and sorrow, and disappointments, and difficulties. And yet, when we walk intimately with Jesus Christ at our side, our lives won’t be darkened by any daily news of suffering and death!
The abundant life He promises us will not be a life that can be corrupted by the scandals that surround us. This abundant life is not a life that can be lost through the self-centeredness and indifference of others. The “light of life” that Christ gives us becomes a well-spring within us, bursting forth and refreshing us each and every day.
When we dedicate our entire lives to God, when we accept Jesus Christ in the depths of our hearts, and when we walk with Him daily in an intimate manner, than nothing can take away the light, love, joy, hope, promise and meaning which Christ gives us!
This is the main meaning of the feasts which we celebrate today and 12 days ago. First, we rejoiced at the coming of God as a human being and His birth as a baby in Bethlehem. Today, we celebrate the feast of Epiphany, when we remember the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. It is interesting how the theological significance of today’s feast doesn’t focus so much on Christ’s baptism, as it focuses on Jesus revealing the true and full light of God into the world.
After being born in a miraculous manner in Bethlehem, and after living a humble life as the son of a carpenter for 30 years in Nazareth, now comes the moment when Jesus of Nazareth reveals His true identity, and the identity of God Himself. Now Christ begins to proclaim the “good news of great joy” which the angels told the shepherds about on the night of Christmas.
“The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light. On those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen!”
In the midst of a darkened world, Christ comes and shines forth His light of eternal and divine love. All who turn their eyes to Jesus Christ get to see the world from a new perspective. “I am the light of the world,” proclaims Jesus, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,”
“I am the light of the world that has come to overpower darkness. And I begin, not by casting out the darkness that is so prevalent throughout society, but I begin by casting out the darkness that is deep within the soul of every person. I begin by shining my light within you, my followers, and if you allow me, then I will enlighten every part of your mind, your heart and your soul! I will fill you with my presence, and once you have my light shining brightly within you, then you will never be afraid of any darkness the world may bring.”
When the light of Christ lives within us, then we can better understand his promise, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world!” Or as the Psalmist so aptly believed, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom do I fear. The Lord is my life and my refuge, of whom am I afraid.” (Ps 27:1)
Jesus is the light of life who came to enlighten our lives!
First of all, Jesus Christ came as the light of the world to break the hold of death, which has darkened the world ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve. Death, the ultimate end of all people, the frightening darkness of humanity, is not only challenged, but destroyed by Jesus Christ. We no longer have to face this dreaded end of humanity, but now can laugh at death. As St. Paul so boldly says, “O death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?” Through Christ, the darkness of death is turned into a peaceful doorway into heaven.
Second, Jesus Christ came as the light of the world to shine within the darkness of ignorance. He is the light of knowledge, revealing to us the truth about God, the truth about life itself, and our purpose here on earth. We are not animals, living on earth for 80 or 90 years simply to fulfill our own needs and then to die and be buried in the ground. Christ has revealed to us that we are God’s children, created for eternity. We have a purpose on earth – to receive God’s love in our lives, and then to be His instruments sharing His love with other people. Within each one of us there is a thirst for the divine and a longing for the eternal. This thirst and longing can only be fully filled through an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
Third, Jesus Christ came as the light of the world to shine His love in the midst of the dark hatred that tries to control our lives. Jesus revealed through his life that love is greater than hate, and good is greater than evil. As a light within each one of us, he teaches us to allow His light of love to chase away the shadows of hatred, bitterness, and injury that dwell deep within us. No matter how dark any darkness is, His light is always greater! But we have to allow His light to heal us from the self-destroying darkness of hatred.
Finally, Jesus Christ came as the light of the world to shine His light as a guiding beacon to direct our lives. He shows us the way we are to live our lives in harmony with others, in service to others, in peace with others, in love with others. Every day, we must ask ourselves, “What should I do, and how should I act?” Our Lord shows us through His example and through His teachings. Through the traditions and teachings He has given us in the Church, Christ shows us how to live and what to do. In the end, Jesus Christ as the light of the world came to reveal the true path that can lead all people to salvation and paradise, which begins here and now.
So today, we hopefully hear and understand that Jesus Christ is the light of the world that overcomes any darkness. But we Christians, as followers of Christ, must always remember that we also are called to become light ourselves! St. Paul preached, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” (Eph 5:8)
“The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus Christ is that great light, who gives us hope in the midst of any darkness!