Today, in our cities, it’s hard to see the stars at night because of all the light pollution, but out here in the countryside, the moon and the stars are still visible on a clear night and appear in all their glory. In almost every culture, the appearance of a star is a good omen, a symbol of something beautiful and positive. Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem summoned by a new star. The Magi were experts in ancient lore, scholars of the wisdom traditions in which the human race sought for the unknown Creator and Ruler of all things. These Magi found their way to Jerusalem, not by following the Jewish scriptures, at least not to begin with, but by following a star, a cosmic indication that something of cosmic significance was taking place.
Their non-Jewish wisdom figured out a lot. “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Even so, for the final phase of their journey, the Magi needed the scriptures to arrive at the precise end of all their searching. They needed the prophet’s identification of Bethlehem as the place of the Messiah’s birth. With the Magi the entire human race’s longing for God arrived in Bethlehem, the City of David. This account is full of mystery and symbolism and connects the mystery of the Nativity with the Mystery of the Resurrection. The star of Bethlehem will eventually become the rising sun on Easter morn; for the sun too is a star.
The Epiphany star rises in the east because the “east” refers to “other peoples”, known and unknown and there are an awful lot of us, are there not? It refers to everyone. The sun rises in the east. Even our English word, Easter, comes from an old German word, eostarum, meaning dawn. The new star in our gospel rises in the east, because the east is the place of rising and resurrection.
God chose the light of a star to announce the birth of the Saviour. The light of the star is a gentle light, which shines over everyone and not the spotlight of fame, which we so often crave. God’s light does not shine on those who shine with their own light. God ‘proposes’ himself; he does not ‘impose’ himself. He illumines; he does not blind. The Epiphany star reminds us that we are not the sun of humanity. We are the moon that, despite its shadows, reflects the true light of the world, Christ the Lord.
Even the moon can shine brightly in its reflected light and we too need to learn how to shine, to be clothed in God who is light, but first we must put aside our pretentious old robes. Otherwise, we will remain like Herod, who preferred the earthly lights of success and power to the more subtle divine light of the star. The Magi were willing to try on these new clothes and fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah. They arise and shine, and are clothed in light. They alone saw the star in the heavens: not the scribes, not Herod, not any of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
The Magi stand before the Lord on our behalf this day and together with them, we worship. Today the Lord is revealed to us and we have come full circle. From manger, through the cross, to the empty tomb. So, pencil in the date of Easter you people from the east and follow the morning star that never sets, from this feast of Epiphany to the empty tomb on Easter morning. May Christ, that morning star, shed his peaceful light on our troubled world as we follow him on that journey of salvation.