Once upon a time, a theologian and an astronomer are talking together one day. The astronomer says that after reading widely in the field of religion, he concludes that all religion can be summed up in a single phrase. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he says, with a bit of smugness, knowing that his field is so much more complex. After a brief pause, the theologian replies that after reading widely in the area of astronomy he concludes that all of it can be summed up in a single phrase also. “Oh, and what is that?” the astronomer inquires. The theologian then sings with a huge smile, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star; how I wonder what you are!”
Let’s get something straight here. They are not kings. They are not wise men. We do not know their names. We do not even know their number. What we do know we read in the Gospel of Matthew: magi from the east arrive in Jerusalem after seeing his star at its rising; they find him in Bethlehem. Period. They are Magi: a Persian word for cultic priests who read the stars. Today we might encounter them as “priestly astrologers.”
Now after all these years we might think, what else can I learn about Epiphany? There are homilies about the Light of Christ, following your star and bearing gifts for one another, especially the poor. But I want to suggest another idea for us to ponder. That point is this: we are very much like the Magi who attempt to see life differently. Searching the heavens at the time of the birth of Christ, something different takes place in the heavens. As priests, the bright star in the east captures their attention. And morning, noon and night they travel the countryside following the lighted path of the star. They first stop at Herod’s palace. But they know him as a fraud. Even God warns them in a dream NOT to return to Herod. Notice that when the star stops over the right place, the Magi find the child. They are overjoyed because they find their answer.
When the Israelites return to Jerusalem they search for answers. The economy and the temple are in ruins. People are starving. To support the people Isaiah tells them to look at life differently…shine a light and take another look.
In the middle of a crisis, we search for answers. During the dark night of our souls we hang onto faith. In the middle of mourning a loved one we search through the darkness to find hope. We are those Israelites and those Magi who want to find Truth!
The problem is…sometimes we get waylaid. People seduce us with empty promises. Society lies to us about happiness and comfort. For example King Herod demonstrates to the Magi his great interested in worshipping the newborn king of the Jews. And if the Magi did not pay attention to the light of their dreams and their quest, Herod would have destroyed the child.
According to Alice Camille, the Magi ascertained through reason that the star in the east is a very important sign to follow. And keep in mind that the Magi are not Christian. They are not Jewish. St. Matthew wants us to understand that the world is reasoning that the Bethlehem event is something very important. In other words, they see life differently. Reason and faith help us find God.
Are we in darkness? Shine a light! Need direction? Shine a light! Feeling lost? Shine a light! We shine a light when we ask for help, when we get things off our chest, when we go to confession, when we confess a secret…when we get caught, or, when someone exposes us. Epiphany is a time to see things, people, and places differently through the grace of God.
As we move towards Holy Communion, we remember the words of the African American preacher and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman. This is how he sees things differently: “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings are home, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, rebuild nations, bring peace among people, make music in the heart.”
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The Abbey Art Collection
“Adoration by the Magi,” 1981
Color dye stencil print
31-3/4″ x 27-1/2″
Photo by Peter Hoffman
Use only for the Monks of St. Procopius Abbey