Isaiah lx. i.
This festival, though taking the lower place now, is not only older than Christmas, but for centuries was the greater of the two. In the Eastern Church it is quite the equal, even now, of the Nativity; and among the Armenians Christmas has no celebration whatever, the Nativity and the Epiphany being crowded into this one festival.
But the fourth of all Feasts it is, in our year; and this it has beyond all Feasts, that it alone can never have the end of its type, or antitype. Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, millions of years hence (millions of years, as we reckon them in this world,) will be glorious, most glorious, things of the past. The Epiphany, the true Epiphany, will then, and to all eternity, be a thing of the present,--ah, and as we can little conceive now!
"Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee," That light--that so dear light--prophesied of by Balaam, and longed for by the older world from the very beginning. That light,--the bright and morning Star, of which this star was but the poor and faint type. No need to remind you of what you already know.
But, my Sisters, take it in this way. What is your True Light? He Who, as He "lighteth every man that cometh into the world," so more especially He should enlighten you; this you also know. But precisely as, every time you receive the Blessed Sacrament, these words might be addressed to you, so they have also another sense, far less dear, I know, but wider. Ought they not to bid each of you, when you so receive that Body which the Wise Men worshipped on this day--that Blood shed for the first time on our last festival--ought they not to bid you arise--arise from those chains, those favourite and pet little sins, that are holding you down? Ought you not to shine, having the Sun of Righteousness to shine in yon?
That again, you all, at once, gather from the text. But just as our dear LORD was pleased to be typified in the Old Testament, and that, marvellously, in deeds which involved sin; those of Judah, and Tamar, and Samson at Gaza, David and Bathsheba (you know how often I have quoted to you that great saying of S. Augustine, "Let us abhor the sin, but let us not quench the prophecy"), so undoubtedly what is true of Him here--of Him, in one sense only, of Him, in every sense chiefly--may be true, aye, and is, too, of those trials which, in His love, He sends; of those temptations which, in His love, He permits.
"Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee." My Sisters, is not this the most encouraging of all encouraging things? to see the stamp of our King on every suffering we are called to pass through? On pure sufferings first: where there is no necessary connection with sin: as, hunger: and we think of that wilderness; thirst: and we think of Jacob's well, and hardly dare to think of Calvary; weariness: and we think of, "they took Him even as He was," when He slept in the ship. And on temptations, too: else why should the three temptations, under which the first Adam fell, and which include all that any can suffer here, be the very three which the Second Adam overcame? "To make the Captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings.''
Well, then: I want you to see this, that every suffering you undergo here, or elsewhere, only repeats those words, "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee." But, much more, that every temptation here, or elsewhere, only repeats those same words. If you could only look at it so, oh how many victories you would win which now you lose! Marvellous as is the analogy, on the whole, between earthly and heavenly combats, in this they are utterly different. The greatest chief of modern times used to say that of all dreadful things, most dreadful was a defeat; but only less dreadful, a victory. Thank GOD, not so with us. A victory, except for the pain cost in winning it, (and you know about the "light affliction,") has nothing dreadful: it is not as if all stood even as it was before; if you have net gone back, you have gone on.
But see this: every one of you would allow, and rejoice in allowing, that hard,--if you like, terrible--work, done for that dear LORD'S sake, outside yourself, (it matters not what,) merely gave you the call, "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee." Then what is the difference between that and temptations within yourselves? it matters not one straw what they are. When you pray, "Lead us not into temptation," you ask what He Who knoweth our frame and remembereth that we are but dust, has told you to ask, and (so far as is good for you) He will hear. But He hears it more gloriously if, permitting you to be tempted, He gives you the victory. Only be careful of one thing. Do not let that petition be so said, ever, by any of you, that Satan might do with it what the legend says he did with the thoughtless Amens in another Religious House. To pray carelessly for a vital thing, is worse than not praying for it at all: and, no doubt, as a warning against that careless praying, S. Augustine said, that it was expedient that a man should sometimes fall.
"Arise, shine; for thy light is come." But what that future light will be, where they need no candle, neither light of the sun, where the LORD GOD giveth them light, where "the LORD shall be thine everlasting Light," where that will be wholly and for ever fulfilled--"God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all;"--what can I say of that, my Sisters, except to ask for all of us that some day we may know it when we see Him as He is?
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and Gou the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.