Although darkness can be very soothing, and romantic as well, it can also be very frightening. We lose our way in the dark; we bump into things; we cannot perceive what or who might threaten our safety. The phrase “under the cover of darkness” suggests some manner of deception. In our vulnerability, we instinctively reach for the light switch.
The opposite of darkness is, of course, light. With it we are able to find our way; we can perceive rightly; we feel more secure. Scientific tests have shown that we may need darkness to sleep, but we need light to live.
Darkness and light almost universally symbolize negative-positive polarity. Isaiah uses darkness to refer to the gloomy plight of Israel as it seeks to recover from the exile, and light when he speaks about hope of future restoration. It should be noted that this is no ordinary light. It is the glory of God that encircles the nation, so transforming it that, in its turn, it will act as a light for others.
The epiphany or manifestation of God, celebrated on this feast, is frequently characterized by some form of illumination: the glory of God shines; the mystery is made known; the star, the light which served to point the way through darkness.
And who is to be illumined? Who is called out of darkness? For whom is the good news of Bethlehem meant? Everyone! According to Isaiah, the glory of God will shine through Israel onto the other nations. The psalm echoes this. According to Paul, Gentiles are co-heirs of the revelation. According to Matthew, the magi from the East follow the star to the child. The incarnation illumines us all, so that through us, God can turn on the light for others.