Feast of the Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a; Matthew 2:1-12
“…they departed for their country by another way.” Mt 2:12
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan theologian and contemplative, tells us that Advent and the whole Christmas story is not just about “waiting for a little baby to be born” but rather it is about “welcoming the universal, cosmic Christ – the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and history.” While honoring the traditional understanding of the Christmas narrative, the 21st Century understanding of the creation story challenges us to rethink the story of the Epiphany in the broader context of cosmic history. In his gospel account, Matthew tells us that “magi from the east” followed the star in search of the newborn king of the Jews. The gospel provides no other information about the magi. Over the centuries we have romanticized the story in art, poetry, and song. We have determined that there were three magi; we have given them names, identified them as kings; and made them astronomers. But who are these magi and what do they tell us about the Cosmic Christ? What do we know about the star they followed?
The story of the magi is one of the most beautiful and best-known stories in scripture. Matthew’s account does not give us any details about these travelers. They are mysterious foreigners who receive a cosmic sign to leave their home and embark on a dangerous journey in search of the newborn king of the Jews. While we do not know if the story is historically true or a parable, we know that the narrative is meant to be a reflection on the meaning of the Incarnation. The imagery depicted in the story describes the mystery of the cosmos and celebrates the manifestation of God to all peoples of the earth. The magi were no doubt astronomers who studied the patterns of the night sky and watched the movements of the stars and constellations. Their knowledge of astronomy led them to follow the light that led them to Jesus. Scientists today, like the magi, in sharing their knowledge in astronomy, astrophysics, and evolution are bringing humanity to a new understanding of God, the cosmos, and religion.
The feast of the Epiphany is not a scriptural description of some ancient astronomical phenomenon. It’s about how God’s love changes human hearts. It is a story of a God who is so much bigger than we have conceived. God is the origin of the great mystery of the cosmos; He is the energy that permeates the universe with love. Pope Benedict XVI in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives challenges us to embrace the message of the magi in cosmic terms when he says: “If these wise men, led by the star to search for the king of the Jews, represent the movement of the Gentiles toward Christ, this implies that the cosmos speaks of Christ, even though its language is not fully intelligible to man in his present state. The language of creation … gives man an intuition of the Creator … [and]arouses the expectation, indeed the hope, that this God will one day reveal himself.”
The feast of the Epiphany comes at the close of the Christmas season and at the beginning of a new year. Like the magi we, too, are on a journey, a spiritual journey, and in the words of Saint Augustine, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee”. Let us follow our inner stirrings, our “shining star”, and like the magi be willing to set out on new paths and into unknown places with hope and expectation.
Sr. Mary T. Flood, OP