Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
The Epiphany of the Lord
January 4, 2015
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Matthew 2:2
A truly beautiful sky is found on a clear, cloudless night at sea or in the mountains where there are no distracting artificial lights. There, like a blanket laid out with jewels, the sky reveals stars we never knew existed, varying in size and resplendent in beauty, millions upon millions of them. I have never come away from such a sight without acknowledging how truly marvelous is God’s creation. This is perhaps the starting point for reflecting on the Magi’s visit to the Christ Child in Bethlehem.
What brought the Magi to Christ? They would say, “We saw his star at its rising” (Matthew 2:2). This is ostensibly the reason, but what lies beneath the reality of the star? The star was symbolic. The ancient world believed that a new star heralded the birth of new ruler. Little wonder Herod reacted with mad jealousy. I believe, however, that the meaning of the Star of Bethlehem has a deeper meaning.
In the sacred writing of the Jews, in the Book of Numbers, there was mention of a star. An oracle of a Gentile prophet, Balaam of Moab, had proclaimed, “A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17). The Magi were educated men. They were Gentiles, but they had read the Jewish prophets and the sacred texts. They perhaps knew of this prophecy. Regardless, they recognized the importance of this star.
The star was not their goal. Neither was the star the object of their worship. The Magi were not misguided like the Gentiles St. Paul criticized in his writings, when he wrote, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator” (Romans 1:25). The Magi had not looked up into the sky and become distracted by the beauty of the stars.
For the Magi the beauty of the star told them about a greater, fundamental “beauty,” who was “the newborn king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). It was to Him that they would offer their worldly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts had no value in and of themselves, except that they symbolized an internal reality, an unseen mystery, an eternal truth, now revealed in the person of this little child.
The Magi teach us a great deal. First, they remind us not to mistake the creature for the creator. We can marvel at material things and wonder at the beauty of the created world, but these attractive objects can never take the place in our affection of the God who made them. Second, the Magi teach us that everything, even the heavens, point to God. In the modern world, too often we make distinctions between faith and reason, religion and science. God and the world He created are erroneously understood as being in opposition. But creation apart from the Creator is incomprehensible. Such a division should not exist. Everything comes from one source, the Creator of all that is good, and Jesus Christ is His full revelation, His definitive Word. Without this understanding, we are never able to understand the answer to the question most frequently asked by modern man today: “Why?”
Finally, the Magi teach us that God’s salvation in Jesus Christ is intended for everyone. The Magi were Gentiles. They knew that the Jews were God’s Chosen People, but they also understood that in some yet inexplicable way, this “king of the Jews” had entered the world for them. For this reason, they had come with their gifts and worshiped, prostrating themselves and offering their most precious possessions.
Do we mistake the creature for the Creator? Do we acknowledge God’s hand in His creation? Do we worship false gods because we cannot see God present in our midst? To whom do we offer our gifts? Before what idols do we place our most prized possessions? These questions and more the Magi force us to ask. And why? Because they saw “his star at its rising and [came] to do him homage.”
Bishop Glen John Provost