[ii] if I may be frank(incense) with you
Our reading from Isaiah speaks of thick darkness and of dawning glory, and with it the promise, ‘Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice’ – a promise experienced by the Magi when they reached the goal of their longing, and ‘they were overwhelmed with joy.’ Isaiah cries out ‘Rise! Shine! Become light, participating in the glory of Yahweh. Though, to rise, the magi must first fall on their knees in adoration. And before that, they must journey through darkness, deep and thick, the darkness where God dwells, hidden from sight, requiring of us that we walk by faith. The thick darkness belongs to God as much as the glorious sunrise.
In this Season of Epiphany, a surprising revelation, we are invited once again to journey with the Magi, through the dark. That is, we are already on a journey through the dark, and we are invited to attend to it, to enter it more fully, to name it for what it is. To give a name, also, to the end of our searching. Every person you have ever met or will ever meet is searching in the dark. And, ultimately, whether they know it or not, whether they can name it or not, what they are searching for is God-with-us, in the human face of Jesus. God, come to us, as a baby, vulnerable, dependent on us. The light of his countenance overwhelms grown men, powerful men of means. Herod did not dare gaze upon the child.
What, then, of the darkness we travel through? The darkness within which God is simultaneously hidden from us and revealed to us? The Magi observe the night sky and discern meaning there, story that makes sense of the world. We journey through the darkness of our learning, our experience, of all that has become so familiar to our community that we no longer see it at all. The darkness is to us what water is to fish. But the Magi also appear in Jerusalem, having come so far on the strength of what they already know, knowing that they still haven’t found what they’re looking for, knowing that others might be able to help them, even if they don’t yet know that the very person whom they are asking will betray their trust. We must journey through the darkness of the very limits of our learning, our experience, from independence, through interdependence, to utter dependence on others, just like the infant Christ. Unless we journey through the darkness, until we are willing to do so, we will never find what we were searching for all along.
Looking through the darkness of history, through the centuries, by faith, Isaiah sees a multitude of camels bringing gold and frankincense, and in the clearer light of dawn Matthew is able also to see myrrh. An opening of treasure-chests. An opening of the life we have been given, to reveal before God what lies within: the seam of gold mined from the earth, metaphor for wisdom; the sap of a tree, its lifeblood surrendered in prayer; oil of anointing, kings and queens, and the dead. Wisdom, discovered in the dark, hard won by hard labour. The life of prayer, also learnt in the dark, its treasure surrendered to the one who has experienced the dark night of the soul, the awareness of God’s presence that comes only after awareness of God’s absence. The glory of being part of the people of God, the family of Jesus, dawn-bearers in a world longing for light.