Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2017.
Probably the most common image of Blessed Mary and Jesus Christ together is that of the arrival of the three kings who followed a star, and found the Child and His family, giving Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Often that bright star is seen depicted over the small gathering. There are countless paintings, icons, and songs—we all have this image deeply ingrained in our imaginations. This image been fueling imaginations for two thousand years. Epiphany comes on the heels of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which completed last night with the Twelfth Night, an image also deeply ingrained in society for many centuries, even so through Shakespeare and other ways, one tradition of which we will celebrate in a small way after this Mass with the traditional King’s Cake.
So what is going on in all this? How do we understand all this through prayer and prayerful reflection? In our Collect, we are asking God to lead us, like the Magi were led. We are asking God to manifest Himself so that through faith we know Him, just as the Magi knew Him as manifested in His physical presence with His Mother—that we may know Him in His glory, and even face to face. “Glory”—that word is used in the Bible to tell us something of which cannot easily be spoken. Glory is always a sign of the presence of God, the presence of divine holiness. That something sacred, something wonderful is taking place. So we see that even simple reflection on the words provided by our liturgy beckons a mystical reflection on this, the Epiphany of Jesus.
Let me say first that the Magi, called by Saint Matthew “wise men,” were astrologers. In that age, there was no distinction between astrology and astronomy. The stars, planets, and moon were analyzed for their significance to the world and for what they might portend of the present and the future. So let us understand that just as the Lord manifested His coming according to the signs that the shepherds keeping watch in the field would recognize unmistakably, He did so also according to the cosmic signs that astrologers of that age would recognize unmistakably.
Now, the latest scientific research suggests that the Star of Bethlehem refers to a historical event. The Magi recognized a particular arrangement of stars, planets and our moon that involved the planet Jupiter ascending in a certain way. Jupiter was the “star of Bethlehem,” and interpretation of the mathematical charts revealed a birth of a divine king in Judea. The Star of Bethlehem did not move through the sky like a comet. It rested not on the geographical location of Judea, but its location on the astrological charts involving the constellation Ares. All this is confirmed by contemporary astronomical research.
And so indeed, the stars were aligned. And in interpreting the stars, interpreting the signs of the times, these Magi, of whatever number there actually were, set off on a journey bringing gifts. Gold they brought, to honor the child’s earthly kingship; Frankincense, to honor His divine holiness; and Myrrh, to honor His death and burial. And they came in great joy, opening their treasures. After their visit, they departed for home by another way than by which they came.
All this is fascinating, but even more so, let us find in all this the permission to begin anew and continue our journey according to how the stars align for us. We too are following the Star, and this Star is the Light of Christ leading us through the darkness and into His illuminating love. Let us also realize that just as it was necessary to supplement the Magi’s astrological interpretations with Holy Scripture before the found the Christ Child, we too must have our Star supplemented and supported by the Bible and how it comes alive in our prayer. Let us also find in this renewed inspiration to bring our best gifts to God—our best selves, meaning being as open as we can manage to His presence in our lives, honest to Him about our choices, aware of the forgiveness we still owe to those who have wounded us, and ever asking God to send His Holy Spirit to help us in the process of forgiveness, a process that finds its fulfillment in our ability to truly recognize Christ in another person, such as we are invited to do when we Exchange the Peace during the Eucharist. And let our way home be changed after we encounter Christ in the Mass and in another person—as the Magi’s path home was altered. All encounters of the Lord ought change us.
And let us continually ask God in our prayer to help us follow His will for us. To help us recognize Him in the moments of harmony we experience. To help us recognize Him in the moments when doors open for us, as well as when doors close and we must bide our time patiently in the dissonance of life. There is a plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. Let us thank God for the eternal purpose He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. And let us life up our eyes round about, and behold the Child always presented to us by Blessed Mary, His mother. Let us rejoice in this Light, for this is a Light that lights up the universe in wonder and awe. Amen.
The cover image “Adoration of the Magi” by Giotto is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.