The season of Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of God in Jesus, the one chosen by God to show God’s love to the world. Running through many of the scripture passages offered by the lectionary for this season in Year A is the motif of light—for light illumines, light reveals. The passages remind us that God’s light shines brightly on our lives. See
This coming Sunday is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, and the readings for this Sunday do no disappoint in this regard. A theme of light runs through the readings: the appearance of the glory of the Lord” on Mount Sinai (Exod 24:17), the transformation of the appearance of Jesus as “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matt 17:2), and a reminiscence of that event from one who styles himself as one of the “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet 1:16).
Light first figures in the biblical narrative in the Priestly narrative of creation that was placed at the head of the Torah, when the first word from God’s mouth was, “‘Let there be light’”; and there was light” (Gen 1:3; see also Job 12:22). Light is the companion to the Israelites as the traversed the wilderness: “the Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light” (Exod 13:21; see also Neh 9:12).
Light was to burn constantly in the Tabernacle: “command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly. Aaron shall set it up in the tent of meeting, outside the curtain of the covenant, to burn from evening to morning before the Lord regularly” (Lev 24:2–3). In Numbers, the command is for seven golden lamps to shine forth light (Num 8:1–4).
In David’s last words, he sings an inspired song about the king as one “who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, [who] is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (2 Sam 23:3–4). In this regard, the king reflects the Lord God, for “he will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday” (Ps 37:5–6). Many centuries later, the prophet Daniel would declare that God “reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him” (Dan 5:22).
In like fashion, the psalmist sings, “the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Ps 27:1), rejoices that God is “clothed with honour and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment” (Ps 104:1–2), and prays, “ let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!” (Ps 4:6). “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”, the writer of the longest psalm sings (Ps 119:105), rejoicing that “the unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Ps 119:130). The same thought appears in Proverbs: “the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light” (Prov 6:23), and “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Prov 4:18).
Israel’s vocation, according to the exilic prophet whose words are included in the scroll of Isaiah, is to be “a covenant to the people, a light to the nations” (Isa 42:6, Epiphany 1A), “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6, Epiphany 2A). That same prophet evokes the creation story, affirming that “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things” (Isa 45:7), and reminds the people that God promises, “a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples” (Isa 51:4). Later, after returning from exile, another prophet rejoices in the bright shining of the light of the Lord (Isa 60:1–3, set for the day of the Epiphany).
This theme extends the call of the prophet Isaiah himself, who cries, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isa 2:5) and foresees a time when “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined” (Isa 9:2, Epiphany 3A). For Micah, realisation of the scale of injustice within Israel lads him not only to call the the people “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8, Epiphany 4A), but also leads him to express his deep penitence: “when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me … he will bring me out to the light; I shall see his vindication” (Mic 7:8–9).
The prophet Isaiah also links light with judgement, declaring that “the light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame; and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day; the glory of his forest and his fruitful land the Lord will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when an invalid wastes away” (Isa 10:17; see also 13:10–11
Other prophets use the absence of light—the presence of darkness—as a symbol for divine judgement in the face of human sinfulness (Amos 5:18–20; Jer 4:23; 13:16; 25:10; Lam 3:1–3; Ezek 32:7–8), although in his apocalyptic mode, Isaiah offers hope using this image: “the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow” (Isa 30:26).
In Third Isaiah this promise blossoms wonderfully: “the sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended” (Isa 60:19–20). For Zechariah, the apocalyptic vision of the final victory of the Lord includes the affirmation that “ there shall be continuous day (it is known to the Lord), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light” (Zech 14:7).
Light, of course, forms one of the famous “I Am”affirmations that Jesus makes of himself in John’s Gospel (John 8:12; 9:5; see also 1:4–9; 3:19–21; 11:9–10; 12:35–36, 46) and the description of his faithful followers as “the light of the world” (Matt 5:14, 16). Paul rejoiced that “it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
He urged believers to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light” (Rom 13:12) and affirmed that they are “all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). He rejoices that “it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
The author of 1 John also uses this imagery to affirm that “ God is light” (1 John 1:5) and advises believers, “if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7; 2:10). The final vision of Revelation includes a description of the servants of the Lamb, noting that “there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:5); indeed, “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb; the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Rev 21:23–24).
So the readings for this Sunday express a strong biblical theme that has run from the opening story of creation, through the story of Israel and the movement initiated by Jesus, to the vision of the promised future. What has been to the fore throughout Epiphany climaxes atop the mountains where Moses receives and Jesus interprets the Torah, with the appearance of “the glory of the Lord … like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel” on Mount Sinai (Exod 24:17) and the glittering transformation of the appearance of Jesus as “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matt 17:2).