Voices Online Edition
VOICES - Vol. XX No. 3
Christmas 2005 - Epiphany 2006
by Helen Hitchcock
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
These first three verses of the Book of Isaiah chapter 60 are familiar to most English-speaking Christians from Handel’s Messiah, most-often heard during this season. The Prophet Isaiah is teaching about the restoration and future glory of Zion, after the darkness and destruction brought about by the abandonment of God by His people. He preaches the manifestation -- or epiphany -- of God to all the people of the world (the Gentiles).
The darkness and destruction so powerfully described by the ancient prophet of Israel in these chapters still threaten to overwhelm us today, as we see daily in the news. It is not only “the earth” that is plunged into “gross darkness” by catastrophic events like hurricanes and earthquakes, but there is also the spiritual darkness that leads to the corruption and collapse of cultures, and to personal disintegration. This is as pervasive now as ever in the past. The poison of human evil is as potent as ever -- and, as ever, we proclaim our independence from God, saying with the Evil One, “non serviam” -- I will not serve.
Indeed, as events of this year again remind us, mankind seems almost preternaturally inventive in devising new ways to reject God. We assert the right to “create” human life in our laboratories only to destroy these tiny human beings at will for a “good” purpose. The end supposedly justifies the deranged means. Anyone who objects to this grisly project is usually labeled a fanatic.
This year the Church marked the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Second Vatican Council, on December 8, and the Constitution on Sacred Scripture, Dei Verbum (The Word of God). It was also the Year of the Eucharist, initiated by Pope John Paul II last October, and concluded by Pope Benedict XVI, and the Synod of the world’s bishops. Their discussions focused on the very foundation of our faith, the Eucharist -- Christ’s sacrifice for our redemption.
As we begin the new year, we await the new pope’s post-synodal letter on the Synod on the Eucharist -- and his first encyclical. It has been reported that this encyclical is expected to appear soon, to be titled Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).
These three words, God is Love, can be thought of as the distilled essence of the Gospel, the Good News (evangel) that is the source of our hope of liberation, of salvation.
Our task, as Christians, is to bring this Gospel to the world; -- to manifest the Light of the World throughout the earth. Not one of us is exempt from the task of evangelization -- using whatever talents, gifts and resources we have. For the people throughout all the world need to know of God’s mercy and love. We recall Isaiah’s prophetic words: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined”. (Isaiah 9:2)
This is the task that is given to each of us by the Lord. And we must accept this work to bring true healing to our world. When He healed the blind man, Jesus said, “We must work while it is day, for the night comes when no man can work”. Then, as if to remind His listeners of the only means by which evil and darkness can be overcome, Our Lord said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world”. (John 9:4,5)
The very opening words of the New Testament tell of Christ, the expected Messiah that Isaiah foretold: the Word sent from God to deliver us from the penetrating darkness of evil. God’s Word -- Dei Verbum -- is His means of communicating with us, He establishes communion with us by “enlightening” us with His truth: “Upon them hath the Light shined”.
Darkness symbolizes our blindness, our inability or unwillingness to understand, to comprehend this Truth contained in the Word of God. This symbol of darkness has concrete meaning for us, because we experience literal darkness every night of our lives even in our age that is so dependent, both literally and figuratively, on “artificial light”.
The Evangelist writes: “The Light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not”. Straight off, John tells us of his own call to evangelize the world: “[John] came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through Him might believe. He [John] was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world”. (John 1:5-9)
John’s obligation “to bear witness” to the world is also ours. We are technologically equipped to do this in a way unimaginable in the past. But we must also be equipped morally and spiritually for this work -- and this is a far greater challenge. We must seek and must follow the Light.
The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the boundless mercy of God in sending the Messiah, His Son, to overcome our darkness and evil and violence, and to bring true peace and salvation:
For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.
The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious.…
Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise.
The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.
Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.
A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in His time. (Isaiah 60:12,13; 18-22)
Indeed, even in the midst of the profound darkness of our fallen world, we have cause to hope in the Lord, and to rejoice greatly! “Arise, shine, for thy Light is come”.
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