My wife and I went to see “Little Women” over the Christmas holidays. It’s well done — and it captures beautifully the reality of life in the 19th century. In particular, it reminds us of something which most of us take for granted today.
This production of the story shows vividly what it was like to live in a world without electricity, with candles and lamps giving off whatever light they could.
When Jo March embarks on her career as a writer, she often has to write in the evening, using only candlelight, or gaslight, or the flickering flames from logs in the fireplace.
Even during daytime, the natural light inside the March family home can be overcast by shadows. In the 1800s, you couldn’t just flick a switch on the wall or click on your iPhone to get more illumination. You made do with whatever daylight or sunlight was available. It could make it hard to see, or see clearly.
Looking back on that now, you realize how much light changes everything, and how electricity and the light bulb have transformed the world we live in — and done it, really, in just 150 years.
Imagine, then, what it was like thousands of years ago — and how much light meant to people at that time living in darkness.
The scripture we heard during Advent told us, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
We see it even more clearly now.
This glorious feast we celebrate this weekend, Epiphany, is very much a feast of light. The very name, Epiphany, means manifestation, revelation. It means to see what was not seen — or what was unseeable, unknowable.
It reminds us, in many ways, of the difference that can be made by light.
And the readings this Sunday celebrate that — and celebrate, as well, the presence of light in our world, the light that is Jesus Christ.
“Your light has come,” Isaiah cries out. “Upon you, the Lord shines. Nations shall walk by your light.”
And Matthew’s Gospel underscores the astonishing fact that the newborn king of the Jews was revealed, in fact, by light — the blazing pinpoint light of a star, light that guided the magi, light that pointed the way and scattered the darkness and revealed, for all to see, our salvation.
Light changes everything.
At this moment, as we embark on a new year and give thanks for the light that is Christ, we remember that the very first words God speaks in all of scripture, his first lines in Genesis, define everything.
“Let there be light.”
God intended for us to live in light, to be people of the light.
But we choose, so often, the dark. The dark of sin. Of selfishness. Of vengeance. Of pride.
And so it is fitting that the coming of Christ, the arrival of our salvation, is announced, once again, with light.
In this moment, as the magi follows its star, God once again says, “Let there be light.”
Let there be hope.
Let there be mercy.
Let there be healing.
Let there be love.
Let there be light.
God says it again to each of us at our baptism, when the flickering flame from the Paschal candle is passed on to us with the words, “Receive the light of Christ.”
Let there be light.
Let us, in other words, be the light the world so desperately needs.
Epiphany reminds us where that light began — with a pinpoint from the heavens, with a declaration from God, with a hope that came into the world to grow and live and teach and heal and suffer and die for our sake.
The great wonder and mystery of our faith is that this light lives on. It cannot be extinguished. It burns more brightly.
The light lives.
It lives in missionaries, carrying the Gospel message to distant corners of the world that even now may not have electric lights — and yet, even now, may never have heard the name of Jesus.
It lives in every priest who elevates a circle of bread at Mass and he holds forth Christ’s body, like another star, another sun, radiating still more light.
It lives in every believing Christian who has received the light of Christ and wants to pass it on — giving dignity to those on the margins, or care to those who are forgotten, or simple kindness and mercy to those for whom the world has been cruel and merciless.
It lives when we proclaim how much we cherish and respect life — and how fervently we pray for peace in the name of the Prince of Peace.
It is a prayer the world is offering this evening with special urgency and hope.
We pray for peace in a troubled and broken world.
And we look with gratitude and love toward the light that has redeemed us — and pray at the start of this new year that we may embrace that light with greater fidelity.
If you’re still looking for a resolution for this new year, let that be it: to remember that God has given us his son, and that we have received by virtue of our baptism the light of Christ.
This is our gift!
And this is our challenge.
One of the most important lines in the Gospel we heard today tells us, at the very end how following the light changed the magi. “They departed for their country by another way.”
So it should be with us. Having welcomed our savior into the world, what way will we follow? Which way will we go?
An encounter with Christ changes everything — and can even change the direction of our lives.
Marking another Christmas season several years ago, Pope Benedict said, “Only if people change will the world change, and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly entered into our night.”
Let that be our hope.
Let that be our prayer.
In whatever darkness we find, amid whatever shadows, God’s first great command still calls to us. And it is a call we need to carry forth to others. Four words that, if we live them, can change the world.
Let there be light.