Next Sunday we celebrate the great feast of the Epiphany when we will hear Matthew’s familiar gospel. Guided by a star which intrigued and delighted them, wise men from the East found their way to Bethlehem. When the star halted over the place where Jesus was, they entered the house, fell to their knees and offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant destined to be the messiah king (2:1-12). The gospel reminds us that Christ came to save all people, Gentiles as well as Jews.
Matthew’s story has caught the imagination of Christians both in the eastern Churches, where Epiphany is the major celebration of the birth of Jesus and in our western Church, where the Wise Men have acquired the names Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior. In the popular imagination Matthew’s Magi reside comfortably alongside Luke’s shepherds.
To enrich our celebration of the Epiphany, let us reflect on ways the beauty and power of the stars can deepen and expand our own spiritual journey. According to respected astronomers, our universe began over 13 billion years ago and consists of at least two trillion galaxies, some with trillions of stars and others like our smaller Milky Way galaxy with around 400 billion stars including our sun. With the recent deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope, we are learning even more about our vast expanding universe: for example, it has revealed thousands of previously unknown galaxies.
Eyes of faith can detect in these scientific discoveries the handiwork of God the Creator of all that exists. The Apostle Paul puts us on alert: “Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity, however invisible, have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made” (Romans 1:20). The immensity of our visible star-studded universe points to an invisible God who is essentially unimaginable, incomprehensible and inexhaustible. The stars warn us against making God in our image or trying to manipulate the Lord of the universe to our own ends. They can also inspire a deep sense of wonderment and awe that opens our hearts and expands our imagination to greater appreciation of the ultimately mysterious nature of our world.
Furthermore, contemplating the beauty of a starry night can direct us to God, the Supreme Artist, the Source of all the beauty in our world that attracts us. The world is indeed “charged with the grandeur of God,” as the Jesuit poet Hopkins so eloquently put it. For believers, all things on earth and in the heavens can reveal the infinite God. As Christians, we believe that Christ is God’s greatest work of art, the icon of the Father, the full splendor of divine glory and the true light of the world.
We can think of Epiphany as a call to stay more alert, during the coming year, to the Holy Spirit, who guides our earthly journey. In addition to our regular prayer regimen, we could periodically contemplate the stars. Gazing into the starry night sky and reflecting on the immensity of the universe challenges all our personal delusions of grandeur and raises our minds and hearts in prayer to the God who created and sustains the whole evolving world. Periodic reflection on the stars can also sharpen our appreciation of all that is beautiful in our world and prompt prayers of gratitude to God, the Creator of all things beautiful.
How can I practice an Epiphany spirituality during the coming year?