The first reading for today’s Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord gives us these striking lines: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines.” On this great feast we are celebrating the light of Christ coming into the world and dispelling the darkness!

Let us pause and reflect for a moment on what it is like to be in real darkness, with no light. We cannot see where we are. We cannot see what is around us, nor can we see where we are going. We can only move very cautiously, feeling our way along, stumbling into things. We can only imagine where we are and what is around us, and our imaginings are very incomplete and incorrect. The reading tells us that this is what life on earth is like without the Lord – “darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples.”

Without the light of Christ, we live in a world which we have largely created out of our own imagination, based on our very limited ability to see anything in the midst of our darkness. For many people, the “world” that they live in is more or less an accident. The earth came to be somehow as a result of random cosmic movements and forces. Life somehow arose and resulted eventually in humankind. Each person was conceived and born into this world by mere chance. There is no overall meaning to anything. We can only make the best life we can for ourselves and those we care about, and then one day we will die. With no light, stumbling around in the darkness, this is what the world can look like to us.

Others have some idea that there is a god, but they imagine him to be an impersonal power, largely apart from his creation, mainly observing to see who is not behaving correctly and waiting to punish them in the end. Again, if we are living in the darkness, covered by “thick clouds,” this is what life can seem like.

But everything changes when a bright light shines into the darkness! Suddenly things become clear. Now we can see what is around us. Now we can walk with confidence, and we can see where we are going. This is what we celebrate with the coming of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World!

What do we see when the light of Christ shines on us? We see that we are not accidents. We have a God who has created each one of us individually, and has called us to be his beloved children, members of the Body of Christ, as St. Paul teaches us in the second reading. We see that, far from wanting to punish us, God loves us so much that he came into the world as a tiny baby to free us from slavery to sin and death.

As Pope Francis says in the Spiritual Reflection, the light of Christ does not so much change the world, as it changes how we see the world: “The places are and will continue to be the same. However, after the encounter with Jesus, we are no longer the ones we were. The encounter with Jesus changes us, transforms us.” We live in a different reality now because we see all things in the light of Christ.

This can be a very real, practical experience in our day-to-day life. For example, the person who seemed to be such an obstacle and an annoyance to us can now, in the light of Christ, be revealed as a brother or sister to be treated with compassion and mercy. The painful situation which seemed to be mere meaningless suffering can now be seen as an opportunity to participate in the saving Passion of Christ, and thus as a way to be a channel of grace in the world. The reality of death which seemed to be only a terrible and tragic end of life can now be seen as the birth into a new and fuller life with God.

The light of Christ is a merciful, healing, restoring light. In our shame we can be tempted to hide from the light, afraid of what it will show us. But what will truly help us is to welcome the light, to open ourselves to it as fully as we can. The One who is bringing this light into our lives is the One about whom the Psalm says, “He shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save.” The light of God comes to save us, to bring mercy and healing to the poor; he does not come to condemn.

While some fear the light of God because of shame, others avoid it because they view it as a threat. We see this in King Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth. In the little imaginary world that he has created in his darkness, Herod is an absolute ruler. He is the king, the most important person in his world, the one whose will reigns over all. He does not want any light to break into his world because he senses that it will show him the truth – that he is only a mortal man after all, and not a god. There is a real God before whom Herod ought to do homage, and he does not want to allow this truth to penetrate his darkness. God save us from such willful pride!

As we ponder today’s readings, we can ask ourselves, How grateful am I for the light of Christ which has been given to me? Do I realize what a gift it is? People in past times had no idea of the great love and mercy of God shown to us in Christ. Even now so many people still do not know Jesus Christ, and so walk in such terrible darkness. Let us offer praise and thanks to God every day for giving us the grace of such light! We who have “seen his star” can imitate the Magi and “come to do him homage,” and then ask the Lord to allow his light to shine forth from us so that others, too – indeed, all nations – might come to know the truth that sets us free from darkness.

What is my inner feeling when I imagine my life in total darkness without the light of Christ? In what ways has my encounter with Christ changed and transformed me? What are the “thick clouds” in my life that do not allow the light of Christ to penetrate my heart?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.