LET JESUS BE THE GUIDING STAR OF YOUR LIFE
FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY YEAR C
January 03, 2015
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs, CA
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Isaiah 60:1-6 Psalm 71:1-2; 7-8; 10-13
Ephesians 3:2-3A; 5-6 Matthew 2:1-12
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
One of the advantages of living in the Desert is that when the sky is free of clouds, we can see thousands of stars. Those residing in Orange and Los Angeles counties are not so lucky because smog obscures their view of the sky, even at night. Exactly which of those stars guided the Magi to the crib of Jesus, we do not know for sure.
Astronomers have indulged in considerable speculation about what celestial event lighted their way. Their principal challenge is that the exact date on which Jesus was born is unknown. It was not on December 25 in the Year One A-D. Most modern scholars place it around 4 B-C to 7 B-C, and they think Jesus was born in the spring rather than winter. In the nativity story of Luke, we hear about shepherds watching their flocks by night. That fact alone makes it more likely Jesus was born in the spring, because shepherds would be keeping watch over their flocks by night then, when lambs were born each year. And, neither the Gospel of Matthew, nor the Gospel of Luke, the two scriptural accounts of the birth of Jesus, contain any references to winter! That scenario was added to the Christmas story and Christmas music as a cultural interpolation from Europe and North America. So no, there was no deep snow on the ground when Jesus was born, and certainly not in Bethlehem, where the climate is much like ours.
Some astronomers have said the star of Bethlehem was a comet, that is, a ball of ice, dust and rocks that orbits the sun. Others think it was a supernova, a large explosion that occurs in the last stage of the life cycle of a star. Still others think it was a meteor. Some astronomers have done mathematical calculations showing that Saturn and Mars came close together in what’s called a planetary conjunction in about five or six B-C. No one really knows.
What matters more, however, is what that star symbolized for the Magi. A star, in the days of Jesus, symbolized the power and divinity of a king. Both for the Magi, and for us today, the heavens proclaimed the glory of God, the light of Jesus, that shows us the way to Him. The theme of light appears throughout Epiphany, not only in the star guiding the Magi to Jesus, but in the first Reading as well, which speaks of the glory of the Lord shining upon the exiles returning from Babylon wherein Third Isaiah invites us to rise up with joy to contemplate the revelation of the glory of God. By following the star to where Jesus lay, the Magi were our forerunners in faith. Their journey to Jesus was a response of faith, just like our journey.
So exactly who were the Magi, and what attracted them to the star they followed? From where did they come? Most likely from Persia, which is where Iran is now. The word “Magi” is derived from the Old Persian word magus, used to refer to a Zoroastrian priest, a follower of Zoroaster, said to be an astrologist, and for astrologers, stars are quite significant, since astrology is the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial objects as a means for predicting and characterizing human affairs and terrestrial events. More important, however, is that the Magi represent those who seek Jesus and wish to encounter Him in His most vulnerable state, as a newborn baby. The Magi wanted a close, intimate relationship with Jesus like no other, just as we seek a close relationship in the Eucharist as we eat His Body and drink His blood.
The Eucharist recognizes the continuing significance of Jesus as it is offered in memory of the saving acts of Jesus for all humankind, not just Christians. The visit of the Magi affirmed the idea of the universal saving power of Jesus. Their visit was fulfillment of God’s plan that Jesus was the savior of all humanity, not just the Jewish people. Their visit demonstrated that the Jewish nation into which Jesus was born was not the only group to recognize His significance. In fact, an alternate name for the Feast of the Epiphany is “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles”, because the visit of the Magi was the first contact Jesus had with people outside the Jewish world, a precursor to the writings and missionary activity of Paul the Apostle, who would later make clear that Jesus was sent to save not only the Jews, but Gentiles as well, a point made repeatedly clear in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and elsewhere in Paul’s writings. Hence, in the visit to Jesus by the Magi, we see that God wanted to reveal himself through his Son, Jesus, not to a select people only, but to all nations. The immediate society into which Jesus was born, and the foreigners from “the ends of the earth are members of the same body and sharers of the promise.” God excludes no one. Those in this world who exclude others from the life of the human family obstruct God’s message that God should be revealed through His son to everyone.
While the Gospel reading doesn’t tell us that the Magi recognized Jesus as God, it does say that they prostrated themselves and paid him homage, gestures usually reserved for someone very important. And they gave Jesus gifts usually given to a king, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That is probably why the Magi are often identified as “The Three Kings” and why this day is sometimes known as “La Fiesta De Los Reyes.” The Magi knew Jesus was someone extraordinary. The idea is that those who were kings would recognize a king.
An appearance of God to people is known as a theophany, and indeed, Eastern Orthodox Catholics refer to the Feast of the Epiphany as the Theophany, a word meaning an appearance of God. Several such appearances occur in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, such as to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to Cain, to Noah, to Abraham, to Sarah his wife, and to Moses several times, significantly, in the burning bush, as in the Exodus from Egypt, and on Mount Sinai. God also appeared to the Old Testament prophets. God’s appearance to Ezekiel was particularly dramatic, in the form of a chariot, torches of fire, and supernatural living creatures. In the Gospels, God’s appearance at the Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration are most dramatic, where God speaks from the sky affirming the Divine Sonship of Jesus. But the appearance of Jesus to the Magi was in the realm of mystery, full of hidden meaning, concepts that would be very familiar to Zoroastrian priests, who were known for listening to their dreams in conjunction with their observations of the celestial bodies in the sky. They intensely listened to voices inside and above them, and were open to hearing things that ordinarily would not make logical sense to ordinary people. They listened to what was in the depths of their souls to give their lives a sense of direction while simultaneously listening to the powers beyond and above them in the heavens. Watching the star of Jesus, they perceived an incredible, splendid event, similar to the radiant scene which Isaiah envisioned in the first Reading. The parallel is this: in the birth of Jesus, the Magi envisioned an event of extraordinary joy, just like the rejoicing exiles returning to Jerusalem from Babylon described by Third Isaiah. But the star guiding the Magi toward Jesus represented something extraordinarily different. It was a mystery. The word “mystery” comes from the Greek word “mysterion”, used in the biblical sense of something hidden made known by God. The Magi, with their extraordinary powers to make sense of the world through listening simultaneously to their inner souls and the divine powers above, received God’s message loud and clear that Jesus was no ordinary child, foretold as far back as the time of Moses, when we read in the Book of Numbers that, “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel,” a leader that would come from among the Jewish people and assert his power.
The Epistle to the Ephesians, our second Reading today, was not likely written by Saint Paul himself, but by one of his followers. Its author speaks of a mystery made known to Saint Paul by revelation. You will recall that Paul was blinded by a light on the road to Damascus where Jesus revealed Himself to Paul. The intensity of that light changed Paul’s life and made him an Apostle for Jesus, instead of a persecutor of Christians. Paul’s response was to make known his vision, not just to the Jews, but to everyone, because like the Magi, Saint Paul recognized the extraordinariness of Jesus. What these events have in common is not only physical light, but spiritual illumination penetrating deeply into the interior of the soul. Why? Because light is nature’s way of transferring energy through space. The Magi were attracted to the star of Bethlehem because of the spiritual energy it transmitted to them. This spiritual light, the spiritual energy that comes from Jesus, shines into us, and awakens us to experience God’s mercy, love and forgiveness. That is what happens when we allow Jesus Himself to be our guiding star, the light that enlightens our lives.
St. Padre Pio recognized this when he said, “May the Child Jesus be your guiding star in the desert of this present life". Yes, we here in Palm Springs live in the desert, much of which is dry and lifeless. And life in our present, very secular world, is, in fact, a spiritual desert, dry and without life, very much in need of a guiding star. Like the star of Bethlehem, Jesus guides us to bring Him gifts. We can bring Jesus the gift of a heart that loves Jesus. We can bring our bodies to love Jesus by doing kind things for others. Despite the storms that batter the boats which are our lives, Jesus promises to be a calming presence resulting from our faith and trust in Him as both the guiding star and destination of our life journey. Jesus Himself tells us in Revelations[i] that He is the brightest and best morning star, a star that both lights the night sky and prophesizes the coming sunrise.
Let us think of the star of Bethlehem we contemplate in today’s Epiphany celebration as we begin twenty sixteen. We as human persons are not alone and apart from God. We need God’s guidance. We can’t do it alone. That is a significant problem with the pervasive secular individualism that presently infects this country, the idea that each person is sufficient unto themselves, with no need for God. That is unrealistic. Life is unpredictable. We know nothing for sure about what might be ahead of us. But we can take comfort and encouragement that Jesus will guide us continually, as we anticipate that the changes and chances of life in the days to come. We need Jesus more than ever as our guiding star which speaks to us and guides us as we pray and study scripture. Just as the Magi did, we need to pay attention both to the inner voice of our souls and the voice from above.
The mystical content of the Epiphany can continue to exist for us if we allow what began in symbol to become authentic reality. As this next year begins, I urge you to set aside time to be with God, to pray about where you are going, how you are going to get there, and what you will do when you arrive. Pray about what gifts you can offer Jesus in how you live your life. Pray about what gifts you can offer the Church, which is the instrument through which Jesus builds up the Kingdom of God, to make the kingdom of heaven an earthly reality, a kingdom of peace, compassion and justice. Jesus can, and should be, your guiding star. AMEN.