Our church uses simple symbols to communicate complex themes. The crucifix is the most important, signifying that God so loved the world that he sent his son to die for our sins. Then there’s the fish, which has become a symbol for Christianity in general. And of course there’s the dove, which has come to represent the Holy Spirit.
This Sunday’s readings made me think of one that came too late for the Church to adopt because this symbol didn’t come along until we had electricity. How about the light bulb for what we celebrate today—the Epiphany? Epiphany is defined by the secular world as a sudden and striking realization that allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.
For my job as a trade magazine editor I often have to come up with cover concepts to quickly capture the imagination of our readers. Our December theme was “Innovation,” so I typed that word into an artwork database to find some thematic elements. I never saw so many renditions of a light bulb in my life. I guess that’s why when someone in a cartoon or an ad has a great idea they’re often depicted with a light bulb turned on above their head.
The Prophet Isaiah took the light he saw shining over Jerusalem as the realization that this region would soon give birth to a glorious idea: the salvation of all nations:
“Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your 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.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.”
And you can almost see the light bulb turn on above Paul’s head as he tells the Ephesians in our second reading about the stewardship with which he was entrusted:
“The mystery was made known to me by revelation … that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
And of course, the ultimate bright idea came to the magi who followed the rising star of the newborn king of the Jews—the one who would share his light with the world.
“They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.”
Then the magi had another epiphany:
“having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.”
That was a bright idea, because they were then able to reveal the birth of the King of Kings to people of distant lands, just as the wise men whom Jesus himself would recruit did by spreading the Gospel he revealed to them. And generation after generation, Gospel readers and listeners eventually come to their own sudden and striking revelation about the relevance of Jesus’s teachings to their own lives. Let everyone in your path be caught in your headlight.