“For we observed his star at its rising.”
Wise men from the East have followed this star to Jerusalem. They will follow it to Bethlehem. They will be overwhelmed with joy when it stops over the house where the child is. For they have come to pay homage to this child who has been born king of the Jews.
Some people have said that star wasn’t really a star. “No natural star could have traveled such a course nor could it have shone so brilliantly at midday and, furthermore, it stood still over the child,” said one person. He doesn’t believe it was a star in the sky and it’s not because he’s not a Christian or because he’s an unfaithful Christian. To the contrary he is one of the greatest preachers and bishops of the early church, St. John Chrysostom of the fourth century. And he’s not alone in his belief. Others have made similar statements.
And I have to tell you, I’ve started to wonder too. If this was a star up in the sky why didn’t Herod see it? Why didn’t the chief priests and scribes see it? Why isn’t it documented by ancient astronomers or recorded by the historians of the ancient world?
Even beyond those factual questions I have to believe there is more to this story than a star in the sky, a rare comet, or an usual conjunction of planets. And surely the epiphany of Christ is more than a supernatural event given to a few people in a particular time and place. What about us? Are we nothing more than inheritors of a story relegated to a second hand experience of this divine light? Is epiphany not also for us? Don’t you want to see this star? I do. And I don’t say that as a demand for proof but as an expression of my longing and desire.
So, what if this star wasn’t really a star? Would that ruin the story, make it untrue, or leave it void of any meaning or value? I don’t think so. I think it would push us to consider a deeper meaning of epiphany. I think it would reveal the divine light of Christ in us and in our lives today. I think it would open our eyes to the many epiphanies that are happening all the time.
Here’s what I mean. Most of us have been told or taught that an epiphany is that “aha” moment when we finally “get it,” the light comes on, we have a new realization, or we’ve figured it out (whatever it might be). I don’t want to diminish those moments but none of those understandings describe what is happening in today’s gospel (Matthew 2:1-12). The wise men did not settle for a flash of insight so let’s not either. Let’s not deny ourselves the opportunity to participate in the beauty, grace, and power of what Epiphany is really about.
The power of Christ’s epiphany in today’s gospel and in our lives is it’s ability to evoke a response, to call forth something from within us, to move us, to take us to a new place, and to open the treasure chests of our lives that we might give of ourselves. Isn’t that what we see in the wise men? They were travelers on a journey. They were searching and longing. They saw the child with his mother. They offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All of these are the manifestation of Christ in their lives.
The epiphany of Christ didn’t happen only when the wise men arrived at the house where the child was. Their entire experience was epiphnay. Observing “the star at its rising” was epiphanal. Their journey to Bethlehem was epiphanal. Seeing “the child with Mary his mother” was epiphanal. Offering their gifts was epiphanal.
Yes, there was a light, an illumination, a knowing that lead them, a star that they followed, but it arose within them not in the sky. It was that deep kind of knowing that I have often described as happening when you know that you know but you don’t know how you know that you know. And I think you know what I am talking about. I think you all have experienced that kind of knowing. It’s the kind of knowing that has power to move us and take us to a new place, to stir up within us an unquenchable longing, to open our lives to another, to let us give of ourselves, and to recognize and adore the beauty and grace of divine life in human life.
This kind of knowing does not exclude logic or reason but neither does it depend upon them. It takes us beyond them. This kind of knowing does not exclude feelings and emotions but neither does it depend upon them. It takes us beyond them. This kind of knowing does not exclude evidence and explanations but neither does it depend upon them. It takes us beyond them. This is epiphanal knowing, the manifestation of Christ’s light, and it’s happening all the time. His star is always rising.
Tell me about that one you love. Tell me about that love that is beyond your ability to describe or express with words. You don’t know why you love. You only know that you love. And it’s a love that is deeper than and beyond what you feel. You look at him or her, you see a light, and you don’t know if it’s them or if it’s you. You only know that you know. You are observing his star at its rising.
Do you remember the day you bathed your newborn child for the first time? You held that little one and you caressed, you kissed, you cooed. Something happened. You looked at him or her and you were taken beyond the bath. Your heart was opened and you experienced and participated in the beauty and miracle of life. You knew that you somehow were holding the sacred, the holy, in your hands. You observed his star at its rising.
Think about one of those days when nothing special happened but everything was just right. Nothing was missing. Nothing was lacking. There was a fullness and satisfaction and you couldn’t explain why. You didn’t know. You only knew that you didn’t want the day to end and you thought to yourself, “My God, this is the perfect day. Thank you.” You observed his star at its rising.
Have you ever told another person – maybe your spouse, a friend, a priest, a therapist – something about your life you had never told anyone else? It was one of those secrets that was wrapped in shame, guilt, or embarrassment and it kept you bound to the past. The other person listened without judgment. He or she didn’t laugh, condemn, or ridicule. They honored and respected you. As you talked a way forward opened up, a way you never expected or thought possible. You knew that you were in some way moving to a new place in your life. You observed his star at its rising.
How about one of those times when something begins to stir in you, a deep longing, a passion? Maybe it’s a sense of calling or vocation, a concern for others, an expression of compassion, speaking out for justice, caring for the oppressed, the poor, the hungry. You feel it as an energy or drive. You don’t know where it will take you and you’re not exactly sure what you will do. You only know that you must follow it. You observed his star at its rising.
I could go on and on. Every one of you could tell these kind of stories. They are stories of painful and broken relationships that are healed and put back together. They are stories of making life changes you never thought possible. They are stories of stepping into the fullness of your life, becoming more real, more authentic, and the only thing you can say is “yes.” They are stories of looking at a stranger, one who is so very different from you, in every way, and discovering that those differences give way to a deeper knowing, a knowing that shows their life and your life to be equally sacred, loved and created by the epiphanal God revealed in Jesus Christ. They are stories of connection and resonance in which you know your life and all of creation to be one ongoing and never ending epiphany of Christ, the manifestation of God in and though human flesh and life. In these and a thousand others like them we observed his star at its rising.
“Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’” So, what if that star wasn’t really a star?