For those who live in the Northern Hemisphere, today’s celebration of divine light, glory and shining radiance comes in the darkest time of the year. Isaiah exults in God’s brilliance, which bursts forth for the returning exiles as Jerusalem rises up in splendor once again. The prophet envisions thick clouds covering all the other peoples. They are drawn to Israel like a moth to a flame. Jerusalem will light the way not only for its own inhabitants; it now provides a welcome refuge for all others. All people from near and far come to the holy city, bearing their priceless gifts: riches from the sea, caravans of camels bulging with treasures, gold, frankincense and wealth beyond measure.
The Gospel tells of the fulfillment of this prophecy with a vivid story. The exotic visitors from the East, who come with their priceless gifts for the newborn Christ, signal the welcome of all peoples in God’s embrace. The gift of the Christ is to all, Jew and Gentile alike, as the author of the Letter to the Ephesians also insists. This author, who writes in Paul’s name, continues to assert, as did Paul, that God’s grace, made known first to the Jews, is now revealed to all. Moreover, there is no distinction between those who were the first stewards of this mystery and those who now enter into it. “The Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” There is no special privilege for those who arrived first.
The week of Jan. 4 has been designated by the U.S. bishops as National Migration Week. The readings today are well suited to help us reflect on the kind of welcome we provide to the 12 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States and the 14 million refugees worldwide. Those who are settled face similar challenges in welcoming outsiders as did the early church, which struggled to accept Gentiles into the faith community. Like the foreign Magi, these newcomers bear gifts of immeasurable value for the whole community.