Date: Sunday, January 02, 2022
On Christmas we gathered with my nephew and his family. He showed me his gift to the family – a telescope. A sophisticated instrument he found on eBay that can see the crust and craters on our moon and the moons circling Jupiter. Human beings have always been fascinated by the night sky. Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “appearance.” We proclaim the Gospel according to St. Matthew about the Magi from the East who see a star at its rising that heralds the birth of a new king. They follow the light of the star that guides them to Bethlehem where they pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews. “Magi” are astrologers. In the ancient world, the heavenly bodies were regarded as divine powers determining men’s fate. The planets are named after pagan gods – Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and Mars. In the Bible there is a totally different understanding. The creation account (Genesis) describes the sun, moon, planets, and stars as created by God, luminaries, that God placed in the sky to dispel darkness and shed light on the earth.
Being curious, we wonder what did the Magi see? In the Christmas Carol, “Do you hear what I hear?” the night wind asks the gentle lamb and little boy, “Do you see what I see?” The lyrics suggests that not everyone sees the star. King Herod and his court are blind to the appearance of the star and must inquire from those who study sacred scripture for its significance. Early in church history Saint John Chrysostom commented “that this star was not of the common sort, or rather not a star at all, but some invisible power transformed into this appearance, as is evident from its very course.” In 1630, Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer and mathematician, proposed “the star” was the conjunction of planets (Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars) in the sign of Pisces in 6-7 BC when Jesus was born.
Whatever the celestial occurrence at the time of Jesus’ birth, there must have been an inner light that predisposes the Magi to undertake the journey to Bethlehem. They, the Magi, represent wise men and women of every generation who are searching for meaning and truth and discover that Jesus, God’s epiphany or revelation, is the way, the truth, and the light. As Emeritus Pope Benedict succinctly puts it, “It is not the star that determines the child’s destiny, it is the child that directs the star.”
I end with the first stanza of a poem of John Henry (Cardinal) Newman beatified by Pope Benedict on September 19, 2010
Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on.
Keep Thou my feet;
I do not ask to see the distant scene;
one step enough for me.