EPIPHANY 2012 B
Through the centuries, scientists and scripture scholars have cooperated to find a physical explanation for the star. Seventeenth-century astronomer Johannes Kepler suggested it was a supernova or new star. Others believe the star was actually a comet. Regardless of the plausibility of such explanations, the star is more important for its theological than its scientific significance. The star in the story of the Wise Men is clearly an allegorical star. No real star would or could behave as the star described by Matthew, moving here and there and leading these men on a journey. For the ancients, it offered a twinkling hint at the greatness of the one born at its rising. What they are searching for is Christ who is a star because he brought light and hope to a sorrowful world.
The Three Wise Men themselves are, of course, also allegorical figures (are there three?) in that they represent the Gentiles, while Herod stands in for all who reject Christ.
Christ is indeed the Light of the World since he came into our world to bring light into darkness, knowledge to dispel ignorance, hope to overcome despair. He is indeed the one who all sincere searchers are seeking.
In Ancient Times this Feast of the Epiphany was considered more important than Christmas and indeed still in the Eastern Churches it is kept as a higher ranking feast. The Feast of the Epiphany is one of the church’s oldest feasts.
Many of Matthew’s readers would have been Gentiles; non-Jews who had accepted that Christ is at one and the same time the Jewish Messiah and the Saviour of the World. They saw that it contained their own story and that it was a message of life and hope for the world.
Matthew’s story of the magi is an account of a sacred journey, a search for salvation. As such it is a model of our own faith journeys. Our journey has many ups and downs, numerous mysteries and loose ends. All things are not clear and obvious. At times there are only glimmers of light on the otherwise dark horizon.
The magi are wise. The Magi symbolize our noblest human efforts. They firstly are seekers of truth and this is important. They find the truth about the journey of life in the surprising discovery that the Divine is in the Ordinary, the Holy Family is often in the stable, the creator is seen in the creature, the infinite is in the finite, that power is in the vulnerable, that the one who brings fullness of life is discovered in the child. There is an Aztec Poem that states: ” Looking for God these days requires the willingness to investigate the small.”
Herod is a king, yet he is afraid. In his fear, he clings to power. He is threatened by the child, this defenseless babe who has no power other than the strength to kindle hope.
Herod spent most of his reign trying to protect himself from being overthrown. His own family was not safe from his paranoia. He sent his wife and son into exile. When his young brother-in-law was becoming too popular, he had a "drowning accident" in a rather shallow pool. Herod also had three more of his sons killed when he suspected them of plotting against him. Emperor Augustus was said to have remarked, "It is better to be Herod's pig than his son." Since the Jews did not eat pork, the lives of Herod’s pigs were safer than those of his sons.
Why do the Herods of history fear the children of the world? Plato stated “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
Herod had all the possibility of discovering the Christ child and welcoming this Prince of Peace. In fact it was through Herod the magi were able to continue on their journey. But Herod was not a disinterested seeker. He was not coming with an attitude of worship and awe, but one of destruction and fear. He wanted to control and determine his own future.
Often we may be like Herod wanting to control and determine our own future. Do we ever fail to seek counsel? Are we reluctant to try to find the truth? Are we afraid to seek the guidance of God in prayer? Do we imitate Herod with a determination to destroy the Word we discover if it could threaten our present position or lifestyle?
What stands out in the story of the magi and any who are wise, is the quality of their journey. Their hearts are receptive, ready to respond when a revelation appears. They are sensitive to the fragile signals of transcendence present in their lives. They recognize God’s grace however it comes.
The Magi went back by “another way”, not merely geographically. They return to a new and different way of relating with life. Their hearts and spirits are comforted and their minds still turning these things over in wonder.
We also have our epiphanies.. our manifestations. We recognize revelations of God in our lives, in the beauty and power of nature, in the words of scripture, in the eyes of a friend. Sometimes these are only faint signs, like a star against the sky. Let us be open to be led by light and truth.
Let us not block the star.. the light that Christ gives us to find him.
“That we might find him , he is finite.
That we might search for him once we have found him, he is infinite.”
O Princely Child, make of us all, wise men and courageous women, obedient children who will follow wherever you lead us. That means being faithful to meditation on the truth, sharing what we learn with others. This is the way for us to be light-bearers, lighting up the darkness and confusion in the world in which we live.