Following Our Star
Homily for January 8, 2017 The Epiphany of the Lord - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2).
With these words from today’s Gospel, Pope Francis opened his homily last Friday for the Feast of the Epiphany, during which he spoke of a holy longing which all true believers have and how that longing should guide us in where and how we choose to seek and follow Jesus.
First, a little background. Although it may not get as much attention as Christmas, did you know that the Feast of the Epiphany is actually one of the oldest of our Christian feasts, being celebrated by the Church since the end of the second century? The date for celebrating Christmas wouldn’t even be established for another 200 years. And like other Christian celebrations, the Church appropriated Epiphany from an old pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. Back then, the shortest day of the year fell on January 6th, before various calendar revisions over the centuries resulted in the solstice now occurring on December 21st.
And although most of the world still celebrates the Epiphany on January 6th, here in the US the bishops have chosen to celebrate it on the Sunday that falls between January 2nd and 8th. I personally think that this was to ensure that people celebrated it liturgically, I guess.
So what is an “Epiphany”?
Well, it is a Greek word that one dictionary describes as:
(1) The manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something;
(2) An intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking; or
(3) An illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
I’d prefer to say that the word itself usually means the moment when a sudden and clear understanding of something comes through intuition or insight, or which is revealed through some event that makes understanding clear. I like to think of it as an “AHA!” moment.
For the Greeks, it came to be used to refer to an appearance or manifestation of a divine being, and so, for Christians, the Epiphany is the revelation and recognition the divinity of Jesus as God.
Now there are many instances in the Gospel where Jesus reveals His divinity such as through the many signs He worked and through the witness of others of His interactions with His Father – at His Baptism and at the Transfiguration, for example. But the two primary biblical events that are referred to as the first time that Gentiles were made aware of the divinity of Jesus, His Epiphany, are the visit by the Magi described in today’s Gospel and Jesus’ baptism by John. Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant church communities usually use the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany, while the Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.
Do we recognize the divinity of Jesus today? More importantly, have we had our own moment of Epiphany with Him? Our faith tells us that He is present in His Word and in the Eucharist, but do we see Him at other times in our daily lives? Where do we look for Him? More importantly, do we know what is leading us to Him?
In today’s Gospel, the Magi followed a star which led them to Jesus. They were learned men, most likely astrologers, and they knew that what they saw was a sign of something great was about to happen – even though they were not Jews. It signified the birth of a King, and they had come to see for themselves this newborn King and to worship Him. The star was for them the guiding light that beckoned to them. The Magi came because the light offered them HOPE.
What is the “star” – the light – which beckons to us? Again, in his homily on Friday, Pope Francis said: “In our life, there are several stars, and it’s up to us to choose which to follow. There are many “flashing lights” in our lives, like success and money, which come and go, which may be good, but are not enough, because they do not give lasting peace.”
Do we see the star – the guiding light – which leads us to Jesus? If not, are we looking in the right place? Do we see the light as a sign of hope, like the Magi?
Or, like Herod, do we see the light of Christ but are unwilling to accept it or follow it because we’re afraid of where it will lead us? Even if the status quo of our life isn’t ideal, we may prefer it to the unknown consequences of giving our all to Jesus. Herod was so afraid that he had all of the baby boys – the Holy Innocents – murdered to prevent the coming of Jesus, rather than risk the change that Jesus represented. He tried to stop Jesus from coming, and we all know how effective he was at that. God always prevails.
Are we afraid of following the light of Christ? Haven’t we acted like Herod, as we approach the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision next weekend that has resulted in the murder of over 55 million babies? Isn’t it fear that prevents us from embracing the demands that the respect for life places on us, and drives us to pass laws in support of abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment?
The Magi came to see and worship this newborn child who would be king, and they willingly left behind the comfort of their lives to seek something that was greater than what they had. They brought their gifts – more than gifts, their treasures – and laid them at the feet of the newborn child, with no expectation of personal gain. They chose to follow the guiding light – the Star – which came from God.
As we proceed into this new year, we need to ask ourselves: what is my Star? Can I see clearly where God is leading me? Am I prepared to have an AHA moment – an Epiphany – where I encounter the risen Christ? Can I overcome the fear of the change that encounter may require of me?
You can. Do not be afraid.