When I imagine the Christmas Story, I imagine most things happened in the darkness.
Sure, Mary and Joseph probably travelled to Bethlehem by day and, for some reason, I have it my head that the angel Gabriel visited Mary sometime around noon – don’t ask me why – but, generally, the key moments all happened in the dark.
We need the darkness to tell the story.
Of course, because it’s a story about light. From the prophetic – “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light” and “arise, shine, for your light is come” – to the narrative itself – “the glory of the Lord shone round about them” and the star the magi followed “from its rising” – to John’s great metaphor – “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” – it’s all about the light.
And the dark. And the light.
Okay, we need both. The story isn’t just about the light coming into the world. It can’t be. Because if you look only at the light, you’ll be blinded. What it’s about, is what the light illuminates in the dark.
The light of the angels and the star lead the shepherds and the magi, respectively, to Jesus. But was it exactly what they were expecting? I want to say, “I doubt it” because it is absolutely worth remembering that the kind of messiah, the kind of great ruler that the people would likely have been expecting to fulfill the prophecy, would not have been born to poor people, far from home, and placed in a manger for a bed.
So, I doubt that they found what they were expecting. At first. But the story’s not about the light, so much as what the light illuminates. And what the light showed them in that moment was a new life, a new love and the power of love to break into the darkness, just like the light, and show a way forward.
I think the story of the magi, in particular, reminds us that we walk everyday in the light of the unexpected. This is the light of love that draws us in and shows us so much more than our expectations limit us to, a light that shows us the world around us and how we are a part of it. It doesn’t just shine, it illuminates, enlightens and ignites.
This is what the season of Epiphany is all about. Between Christmas and Lent, it’s full of stories about how Jesus is revealed (that’s what “epiphany” means), but to look at it that way would be just like looking at the sun. What’s important is how those stories of revealing illuminate our own journey.
The light, after all, shines on you. It is reflected into the world by you. It is carried into the world by you.