Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was." Matthew 2:9
We must not forget that the Magi were non-Jews, pagans in fact. Jews referred to non-Jews as Gentiles, a word in Jesus¹ day used for foreigners. The Magi travel from the East. They come from afar to worship the King of the Jews. What makes this event so exceptional is that they are Gentiles, non-Jews. Yet, Jesus came first for the Jews. He makes this clear to his disciples, when He sends them out on mission. "Do not go into pagan territoryŠ. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6). So what is the significance of the visit of the Magi, given the mission of Jesus? I think the star of Bethlehem offers an answer.
The ancient peoples of the East were much more aware of the presence of stars than we are today. The celestial bodies represented for the ancients a mysterious world completely different from their own. They observed that the stars moved in cycles and sequences and concluded that they were independent bodies. Hence, they frequently thought of them as gods.
Open up the Bible and this is not what you encounter. The Jews were unlike anyone else in the world. They thought the stars and heavenly bodies were not gods but rather the creation of the one God. Thus, the majestic words of Genesis that read, "Then God said: ŒLet there be lights in the dome of the sky¹" (Genesis 1:14). The psalms sing of God¹s goodness and love that has created everything in the heavens. "Who made the great lights, God¹s love endures forever; the sun to rule the day, God¹s love endures forever; the moon and stars to rule the night, God¹s love endures forever" (Psalm 136:7-9). The Bible makes very clear that the stars are not gods. They are a creation of the one God, just like everything else.
When a star leads the Magi to Christ in Bethlehem, the Scriptures are telling us that Jesus is the God of everything that others think are gods. The Magi say to King Herod, "We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage" (Matthew 2:2). A star that would for a Gentile be a god, takes the Magi by the hand, as it were, and leads them to the God of all gods. "And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was" (Matthew 2:9). What is being said is that the very stars that the Magi might have worshipped bring the Magi to the true Creator God. Even the heavens, that Gentiles think are gods, are really part of a creation that points to the one and only Creator.
St. Paul expresses it this way. "In the same way we also, when we were not of age, were enslaved to the elemental powers of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption" (Galatians 4:3-5). There is no longer Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ (Cf. Galatians 3:28). Christ has shown everyone who the real God is. He is so perfectly the expression of God as His true Son that even what the world considers a god points to Jesus.
We live in a world today that is filled with rival gods. It is no less pagan than the times in which Jesus lived. We like to flatter ourselves and look back on ancient times with great condescension. How quaint, we say, all of these primitive people worshipping stars and moons. We are every so much more enlightened. What we forget is that we have replaced the pagan gods of celestial bodies with gods of our own. We worship our pleasures. This is nothing new either. The ancient Romans called it epicurean, that is becoming absorbed with one¹s own pleasures. Is it any different today? Many are absolutely enslaved to on-line pornography. Businessmen tell me that one of the biggest problems they fact with hiring young workers is that many of them are unreliable because of drug use. Money is such a preoccupation with workers that thievery is the rule rather than the exception. We may not burn incense to pagan idols or dance to placate moon gods, but we might as well be falling down to worship at altars built to money, drugs, and sex. The gods may be different, but they demand our obedience that is in fact enslavement.
More than every today, we need a star to lead us to Bethlehem. Today more than ever, the Magi must show us the way to the one true God. The words of Isaiah are as true now as when the prophet wrote them. "Raise your eyes and look about" (Isaiah 60:4). In other words, wake up. Take note of what is around you. Do not mistake the creation for the Creator. This the Magi did not do. They recognized the God that had made them, and they brought Him their most precious gifts.