Matthew 2:1-12
Light in Dark
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,  in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its raising and have come to do him homage."  When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born,  They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel."

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word that I too may go and do him homage."  After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  The prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.\

"Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  You 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, and over you appears his glory" (Is60:1-2).

The first reading at Mass for the Epiphany of the Lord begins by putting two images in our minds: the darkness that covers the earth and the great light that God shines on Jerusalem.  We cannot help but think of the Magi, who are led to Jerusalem by the light of the star.  All throughout their journey there is that contrast between darkness and light.

Against the darkness of the night sky there is that one bright star that signals the Magi to go to Jerusalem to find the newborn king of the Jews.  At the same time they see that light with their eyes, another light has illumined their minds. It tells them that this star they see with their eyes is worth following.  It tells them that the newborn Chris is the only thing that can satisfy the yearning in their hearts.  When all the rest of the world only offers darkness to their spirits, they recognize that the newborn king will give them the true light that they long to see.

Then they arrive in Jerusalem, wondering where to go next. They meet Herod, who was "greatly troubled" at the news that these wise men from the East have come to do homage to a newborn king.  Herod, with a pathetic fear of this infant, will do anything he can to maintain his grasp on the throne.  His thoughts are all self-serving - a great darkness, against which the humility and poverty of the Christ Child shine brightly.  From this point, two more things provide light for the journey of the Magi, against the darkness of their uncertainty about where to go next.  The first is the prophecy from the holy scriptures that the Christ is to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.  The second is the reappearance of the star, which leads them to the exact place in Bethlehem: "And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was."  In all of these ways, light was shining in the darkness to lead the Magi to Christ.

The work of evangelization is not so different.  We have been given the light of Christ, and it is our task to let that light shine on the whole world, not to hide it under a bushel basket (cf. Mt 5:14-16).  Christ has entrusted this work of evangelization to you and me - to be that light shining in the darkness to lead others to him.

There are many temptations that would hinder the work of evangelization.  One is fear. Another is forgetfulness that the world really needs the light of Christ.  Yet another is the misguided idea that in order to make Christ more attractive to people, we need to refashion him in the world's image.  That would be to offer more darkness to an already dark world.  The world doesn't need more darkness.  And a dimmed light won't serve it well either.  The world needs the light of Christ in is fullness.  The splendor of truth will be attractive to people of good will such as the Magi, especially when seen against the background of darkness that the world has to offer.  Yes, there are those who will reject Christ.  But there are also those suffering in the midst of the confusion of the world, just waiting to hear the truth - if only someone would proclaim it to them.

The words of Isaiah can continue to guide us here.  Rise up in splendor, O Christian! Christ your Light has come.  While darkness and clouds cover the peoples the Lord shines upon you.  "Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.  Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you" (Is 60:3-4).  We Christians have been given what the whole world is searching for.  Fear not; let the light of Christ shine brightly in you.