“Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising.”
The Old Testament passage for Epiphany is drawn from Isaiah 60, where the Lord speaks of the future glory of Israel, and how light will shine on Jerusalem while darkness and mist (or fog) covers the nations (goyim). Further into the chapter it speaks of the wealth of nations being brought by foreign kings, even naming gold and frankincense, and how camels would bring this abundance of wealth (hence the camel theme so common with the Wise Men).
The darkness and mist was the darkness of sin, and the light was the revelation of the Incarnate Son of God, which was to illuminate not only the people of Israel, but to dispel the darkness that covered the nations. Listening to that reading this year, it struck me as it never had before: I am of those nations, those goyim who dwelt in darkness, far from the revelation of God. My ancestors had no claim to the promise, to the covenant of God. At the time of Christ, and certainly at the time of Isaiah, they probably didn't know there was such a nation as Israel. Yet God's mercy is so great that the Light made its way to the land of my forebearers, and they responded, and laid at the feet of the manger their treasures: a will submitted to God, which is more precious than gold or frankincense, and the only thing we can really give Him. Because my fathers were drawn out of the darkness of sin into the light of salvation, I can know eternal light.
I sometimes wonder what it must have been like, living in that darkness. Dreary year after dreary year, no hope, no light, nothing but petty superstitions and legends, the dark maw of death ultimately swallowing all. Chesterton offers a glimpse, and studies can suggest some of it, but so long as I stand in the light, I'm only studying that from the outside.
What amazes me is how many people today want to turn their backs on the light and plunge back into the darkness. They think it's a better life, somehow. They forget how many stumbled about for centuries – millenia – in the darkness seeking the light. They don't think about the Wise Men, and why they took that long and arduous journey. What did the Wise Men expect to find, and why did they expect it to be any greater than what they had? They were magi, the wise – people came to them to get answers. Yet they undertook a dangerous journey to come before Wisdom Himself. Their spiritual forefathers, the Wise Men of all ages, had expended their lives in search of what the magi were given freely. No wonder they lay down their rich gifts – the Gift they got in return was of much greater value. Yet so many today want to turn their back on that Gift.
If anything, that makes me appreciate the Gift even more. I'm sorry that so many find the darkness enticing, and want to return there. My fathers waited long and worked hard and paid a high price to come to the light. I'm staying here.