Today, the Church throughout the world celebrates the Epiphany, a Greek word meaning the “manifestation.” On this feast day, we commemorate the perseverance and the tenacity of the Magi, who journeyed for almost two years in search of the Newborn King.
How did these Magi of the East know that Jesus was a Newborn King? How did a star – a reflection of astrology – guide these Wise Men to the true and living God?
The answer to these questions is inspiring. In order to fully understand them, however, we need to do a quick theological summary.
Salvation history shows us that God desires all of his children to know him, to be aware of his love, and to receive his gracious invitation to share fellowship with him. Jesus Christ, his divine Son, was sent among us to be the definitive way in which such an offering could be made.
As a help to those who would not hear of Christ, or who might dismiss his fullness, God generously pours out the seeds of his revelation upon all. On the macro level, this includes all the cults and cultures of humanity. On the micro level, this includes every human heart, no matter its cultural or moral status.
Like good seed in the earth, the seeds of God’s revelation are intended to take root and flourish. In the course of time, they are to provide an indirect, shadowed way in which the entirety of God’s revelation could be sensed and pursued by people and cultures in our world.
Such a series of actions – the seed being thrown, received, and then growing – illustrate the truth that God is always searching for us long before we begin to even think of searching for him.
And so, God seeks us out. He gives us the means, or the semblance of the means, to find him, to truly know him, and to encounter him.
This spiritual truth is the key to our unlocking the answer to the questions of the star, astrology, and the Magi of the East.
Today, we honor the Wise Men who followed a star. It was the only glimpse they possessed of the true God. It was a divine gift and a help to them. God was assuming a posture they knew and he spoke to them through it.
While the prophecies given to the Israelites were the best of divine disclosures, they were not the only disclosure by God of himself. God gave the Magi a star, and they recognized what had been given, and they followed it faithfully.
The actions of the Magi are not a validation for astrology, a practice denounced by God throughout salvation history. Rather, God did a coup d’état on the astrology of old. He threw seeds of his revelation – his light and goodness – into the fallen practice. Not permitting any type of nature or star worship, the living God used the means that was provided and he pointed the way.
It is significant that when the Magi arrived in Bethlehem, they did homage to the Christ Child. They offered him their highest and most valuable gifts. They adored him, as he sat with his mother. As Venerable Fulton Sheen remarks, “Though coming from a land that worshipped stars, they surrendered that religion as they fell down and worshipped him who made the stars.”
After their visit to the Christ Child, the Magi returned home. They did not use a star, nor expect one. As recounted in the sacred narrative, they did not return to Herod, as he had commanded them, but instead “departed for their country by another way.”
Such a description is not merely an observation of geography or travel plans. It points to something much deeper. It unveils something that happened within the souls of the Magi. The homage with Emmanuel – God-with-Us – changed the hearts and spiritual orientation of the Magi of the East.
The encounter with the God-made-Man rocked the world of the Wise Men. It ushered them to true worship and turned their lives from upside-down to right-side-up. They went home by “another way.”
As God blessed the Magi with seeds of his revelation, given through a star, so he endows such disclosures to all his children. In our lives, God will break into any darkness, brokenness, confusion, or vice, so as to save us and offer us his invitation to divine fellowship. When we are closed off, hard-hearted, or distracted, then God – the Dawn from on High – will break upon us and give us indications of his presence, love, and mercy.
As the Magi recognized and pursued their star, will we see the “star” that God sends to us? Will we be as attentive as the Wise Men in following whatever star he sends us?
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby