When they had heard the king (Herod) they set out, and there ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
- Matthew 2: 9-12
On this Feast of the Epiphany (from the Greek word meaning to become manifest or revealed), the Gospel reading tells the story of the Magi, or “Wise Ones,” who followed a rising star in the night sky as a sign that a new King of the Jews had been born. Led not to a palace but to a simple shelter in the small town of Bethlehem, they nonetheless are overjoyed to pay homage to the infant Jesus, with gifts fit for a sacred sovereign. Spiritually forewarned, they return home without honoring King Herod’s request to report the child’s location.
It’s a Christmas story as familiar as it is beloved; I never tire of hearing it. But my reflection begins where the Gospel narrative ends; for having paid homage to the child and now making their long journey home, I wonder how the Magi understood what had just been revealed to them, and through them to the world, for the first time. How could they possibly know the impact, the value, of what they had just received? For that matter, how can I after a lifetime of formation in my Christian faith?
That the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen, that the eternal Godhead and Source of all being, would become flesh and dwell among us. That the One, the Alpha and the Omega of all that exists in time and in the universe, would (through Jesus) embrace us with such profound intimacy, and imprint within humankind a Love so immeasurable it redeems all that we will ever experience on our life’s journey; all of our struggles, our challenges, our choices, and especially all our limitations, including death itself. What language, what thought can be conjured to grasp the impact of this gift, revealed for the first time in an infant child bathed in starlight, but lying helplessly in a humble corner of the world?
In his book “A New Earth,” Eckhart Tolle reflects on a morning about 114 million years ago when the very first flower rose from the earth soil to meet the rays of the rising sun. He suggests that this miracle would come to enable an important step in the evolution of human consciousness, because for the first time nature offered to us as sentient beings that which we could value for its beauty and fragrance alone, and not solely for any survival-related or utilitarian purpose. A gift from the Creator which still delights, and inspires countless artists and poets.
So I like to imagine the Magi on their journey home singing songs of joy and delight, because on some level they sensed they had witnessed the flowering of a new kind of King among men, a Sovereign who could rule the stars but still be accessible to all below . And in my own continuing journey, I pray to rejoice in, without ever really understanding, the “firstness” of the Epiphany.
Musical Reflection - Star Wonder - The Roches