The magi – or wise men – represent that revelation in their following of the star to bring gifts and pay homage to the Christ child. Over the years, they have become associated in the popular mind with Christmas, but it’s pretty clear that it was a while after the birth of Jesus that they made their journey.
The image of light, as manifested by the star, is prominent in Epiphany prayers, hymns and scriptural readings in churches that observe the season. Jesus, the symbolism suggests, pierces the darkness of the world with a light that not only reveals his nature, but also illumines our own as well.
In a more secular vein, personal epiphanies – those moments of sudden revelation or understanding – are often associated with the popular image of a light bulb going off over the head of the one having the epiphany. He or she has “seen the light,” so to speak.
Seeing the light is a commonly used expression that means having the truth revealed to oneself and understanding that it is, indeed, the truth. And Epiphany is about recognition of the ultimate truth.
Many in this day and age have a problem recognizing the reality of an ultimate truth – of any kind. Relativism is rampant in this secular era.
Jesus said that we will know the truth, and it will set us free. Maybe one of the reasons some people have trouble with the concept of an ultimate truth is the way others, including some Christians at times, act is if the truth has been revealed to them alone, and that they are the sole possessors and interpreters of that truth.
Truth of that sort seems more exclusive and restrictive than inclusive and liberating.
Too many times through the 2,000-year history of the church, differences over relatively minor points of doctrine have driven a wedge between believers, leading to discord, division and even violence. Too often believers have used their understanding of the truth not as an impetus to reach out in love and understanding to others but to horde that truth, or worse yet, to use it as a verbal or psychological sledgehammer to enforce their own sense of personal and spiritual superiority.
The ultimate truth that frees individuals is not about one-upmanship or who has exclusive claim to it or who’s right and who’s wrong in the petty disputes that engage the energies of sinful people – which includes all of us. It’s about the revelation of God to human beings in the form of Jesus, and the absolutely incomparable knowledge that God came here in love as one of us to show us how we were made to live – in love and communion with him and each other.
This revelation, this light, sets us free from all the vain desires and ambitions to lord it over others and allows us to become our true selves.