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The Winning Light of God: Reflections on Epiphany

Now the camels and gifts as found in Matthew show up. When the nations and kings stream to the light of YHWH, they will come, as they always do, on "herds of camels," so many that "they will cover you." There will be camels from "Midian and Ephah," along with vast numbers from Sheba. "They shall carry gold and incense and shall carry praises of YHWH" (60:6) This verse is why Magi became kings bearing specific gifts. Two gifts, mentioned in Matthew, are here, while the third, myrrh, turned the kings into the familiar three kings. By such biblical legerdemain are traditions created.

But now that we know how the traditions of three kings and their gifts appeared, we must ask, so what? Is there nothing more here than traditional religious lore, the stuff of trivial pursuit? I think there is. Just as Isaiah spoke to a people in darkness and promised them the saving and winning light of YHWH, just as Matthew spoke of generous Magi, acknowledging in a place of darkness the surprising and winning light of God in the gift of Jesus, so those of us who preach are still in the same business, offering to our people who walk in various shades of darkness the surprising and winning light of God. Isaiah's listeners had a difficult time imagining that YHWH was bringing light to them; Matthew's readers and hearers had an equally difficult time imagining that in a time of Roman empire the light of God can still come, especially in the form of the simple birth of a baby; and we too in our dark 21st century world at times have a very difficult time imagining that the light of God might still come.

My first granddaughter was born on December 20, 2012 on a cold and dark afternoon (5:08 to be precise) in New York City. She is now a beautiful nearly four-day old baby. As her mother, my daughter-in-law, cuddles and caresses her, as my son, at 38 a rather old first-time father, makes silly sounds to her as he rocks her to sleep, I can only imagine that the light of God is still shining in the darkest of places. And that is why we need to celebrate Epiphany, no matter if they are kings or Magi, no matter what gifts they bring. We celebrate the light of God that is for all of us the best gift of all.

1/2/2013 5:00:00 AM
John Holbert
About John Holbert
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.