Epiphany is a season of light. It begins in midwinter, just as daylight begins to lengthen. It commemorates the bright star that led the magi to the Christ child, and it celebrates God’s manifestation in moments of Jesus’s life—his baptism, his first sign at Cana, his Transfiguration.
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. He is an eternal fellowship of light, eternal Source, eternal Radiance, and eternal Dispersion who illumines the Source and Radiance. The Father shines as the Light who makes the Son radiant in the Spirit. The Triune communion is eternal, mutual illumination. By the incarnation, the Sunrise from on high visits us, and shines through flesh, so all flesh sees it together.
Light is the beginning of creation, and by creating light God gives everything else. Without light, things are invisible, not recognizable things at all. A world without light is a world tohu w-bohu, formless and empty (Gen. 1:2). Light is good, the first created good, the good without which nothing else could be, or be good. Nothing can live without light. To say God is light is to say he is boundless life, and Giver of life. As a season of light, Epiphany is a season of life, a distant glimmer of Easter.
Light is glorious; it dazzles. Light is glory; it glorifies as it enables other things to emerge in their own glory. Everything that receives light reflects light. Everything illumined illuminates (Eph. 5:13). As uncreated light, God is both glory and glorifier. If God is light and creates light, and if everything that is in light is light, the whole creation gleams with the refracted light of God. His glory fills, and will fill, all things. Everything is encompassed within the epiphany of the God of light. Thus the Davidic king is the “lamp” of Israel, whose realm is the circle of his light. Thus Israel is a light among the Gentiles. Thus, bathed in the light that is God, the disciples of Jesus are the light of the world, a shining city on a hill.
Light exposes what’s hidden, and so makes judgment possible. Exposure is judgment. God is light also because he is the Judge whose burning eyes see every secret. Light repels those who want to hide their evil deeds; light attracts those who practice the truth, so their deeds may be manifested as God’s own. Light conquers darkness. God is light in that he overcomes: He is victor.
Light keeps time. The rhythm of light and darkness marks out days, while the movements of sun, moon, and stars mark months, seasons, and years. Light dawns at the beginning. It is the first of God’s creatures. Light rises at the end. At creation, darkness broods over the deep, and then is dispelled by the fiat lux. Days begin with evening, and history begins in the dusk of the old creation. Light comes last, and if God is light, he is the God of the future, the light that glows ahead and shines back to illumine all that comes before. As it looks back to the light of Jesus, Epiphany also directs us forward to the eternal day.
As Epiphany manifests the God who is light, it also manifests the mission of the illuminated. Glorified in the Spirit of Jesus, we glorify. Having received the life of God, we give life. We’ve been exposed by the Light, and so are called to expose the deeds of darkness. Sharing the light of Jesus, we share too in his overcoming, victors over the darkness. In the light of Jesus, we shine with tomorrow’s light, so the light of the last day may illumine the way. We become ourselves the epiphany of the God of light.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.