Romans 12:1
Psalm 112:4-6
Matthew 2:1-12

Coming To Light

.... and they fell down and worshiped Him.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

In this season of Epiphanytide, I have been reflecting on the word retreat. I suppose our minds are never far from the subject, for the Hermitage is a place that is apart from the world and is situated on an island that is, in fact, most distant from any major land mass on earth. We do not have television or radio nor subscribe to newspapers. And I use a computer chiefly to broadcast God's truth from a very high mountain. Perhaps as a sign and invitation from God, I find myself living near to the highest mountain on earth measured from its base and the tallest volcano on earth measured from sea level. And I broadcast with a very powerful signal to reach the world called "the worldwide web." Other than that, we have departed from the world. Moreover, we are presently building a retreat center intended for the rest and restoration of exhausted clergy who are very much in the world as servants and guides. Among my reflections in this season is the word retreat.

Earliest forms of the word tell us that it has always meant, to draw back, to pull back. The history of the word's usage from earliest manuscripts, books, and periodicals shows that it has been primarily a military term, as in ordering troops to fall back in the face of an overwhelming force. Retreat is so ingrained in military life that even the daily lowering of the flag on any Army post is called "a retreat" and the composition for bugle played for this rite named Retreat. To pull back, to flee from the enemy, to acknowledge the unstoppable advance of the night — all of this suggests submission in the face of a greater power.

Later in its history, the word was used also to mean, "a period of retirement for religious exercises or meditation." I know that many of you reading or hearing these words have been on religious retreats. Indeed, each time you listen to a reflection from the Hermitage, you are, at least briefly, "on retreat." It is odd, then, considering the long history of the word, that we do not feel that we have battled and then fallen back. We do not feel like refugees. We do not lick our wounds among comrades-in-arms. In fact, quite the opposite is true. While on retreat, we feel that a fog is lifting, a bad vapor, that a tiny ray is breaking through darkness, that a new found groundedness and peace is taking hold.

If the conversation is to be about flight, then it is exhaustion, emptiness, uncertainty, or skittishness that flees as the soul begins to feel its worth. Far from being in a posture of retreat from the world, it is worldliness with its empty claims to meaning that begin to recede and pull back. For now is time for prayer: to pour out our hopes and dreams and beliefs before God, to tell him where we are in our lives asking for the graces to help us advance toward Him. Perhaps we will write a letter, or several letters, to God, Who will read and hear every word and then place many messages before us that will help us to understand and certainly to know of His presence and affirmation and love. Yes! God does return His mail! And, soon, while setting this time aside for the only true love that matters, we do begin to understand things more clearly. Impenetrable mysteries open to us like blooming flowers. Stubborn puzzles are solved with ease. It is as if all things were coming to light.

This was how James Joyce understood the word epiphany — when the swirling dust of anarchy suddenly coalesces, and in one brilliant moment a hitherto unseen coherence is seen rendered in the light of a transcendent truth. Suddenly the world makes sense .... and our lives in it. For that is life: to take steps closer and closer and closer to understanding God's purposes for us here on earth, where God intends for us to journey, to struggle, to learn, and to discover. Remember, the Son of God left it for us to discover Him, not for Him to plead any claims before us. We are to journey toward Him, and it will be up to us to find Him .... though, we may be sure, He will place a guiding star in our skies.

The Magi. From our earliest memories, they have loomed large. "Three Kings" they are called in our Christmas carols, and their exotic lineage and origin, their royal gifts, their peerless wisdom captured our imaginations. And still do! They were somehow above their surroundings, perhaps more at home with angels than with men. And now they are journeying through a struggling world, a world that will soon be destroyed over competing claims to power. But worldly power and riches are of no interest to them. Indeed, lying prostrate before the Infant of a homeless family and laying kingly riches before Him, they seek to give away their power and their wealth. This radiant moment, over which angels hover in wonder, we call the Epiphany. In Greek the word επιφανεσ (epiphanes) literally means "coming to light." Coming to light — the light they have followed to Bethlehem and now, kneeling before the crib, we watch them, understanding that here all things everywhere are coming to light: that the King of the Universe has touched the earth, that a world without meaning must now forever retreat, and that the most chaotic of all chaoses, the finality of death, will no more have dominion.

Whenever I think of retreat, I remember a little sentence that I read many years ago, written by an Eastern Orthodox holy man: "Apart from prayer is only madness." And I reflect. Retreat as a "fall back position"? Retreat as the Enemy's victory? Retreat as a refugee's brief consolation? No. Ours is the Magi's retreat, before which the world must flee and the Gates of Hell recede as we draw nearer and nearer and nearer to this Child's crib. For He alone is meaning. He alone is coherence. He alone is the Light of the World. And the purpose and meaning of our lives can only be known in the light of His star, which we follow and under which we journey and struggle, and in the end find Him and His wonderful light which alone render our lives as coherent, which alone can give us true and lasting peace.

Apart from Him is only madness represented by a deranged king desperate to prop up his delusions and make them stick, desperate to impose a false and fragile "reality" which must always crack and crumble. He flails in the darkness, willing to kill an infant lifeworld around Him, in his madness. But there is "another way." Indeed, in the gentle light of sanity, there must always be one way, one truth, one life. In this season we call Epiphany, we shout Hosannas from the rooftops that this Child is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that He has placed in a star in each our skies summoning us to discover Him and His royal gifts of peace and love and eternal life.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.