Following the Star
Epiphany is a celebration of the manifestation of the Lord to the whole world. Pope St. Leo says it is the day that Abraham saw and longed to see. This celebration includes the mystery of a radiant star whose mysterious light draws pilgrims from afar. It is a light that shows, discloses and reveals where those who seek the Lord might find him. The radiant splendor of this light is the source of jubilation for those who find it: “Behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star” (Matthew 2:9-10).
What did the Magi from the East mean when they explained, “We saw his star rising and have come to do him homage” (Matthew 2:2)? Were these Gentiles wise because they knew the Scriptures and prayed over its meaning? These astrologers seem familiar with the the ancient oracle of Balaam, “A star shall come forth from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17).
These Persians of the priestly caste were part of prophecy, witnesses that what was once promised was now being fulfilled, “Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” As they followed the star, they came to the conviction that the hope of the Gentiles rested with the newborn King of Israel, “Nations shall walk to your light and kings will come to your dawning radiance.” “Bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” they experienced for themselves how “The Lord will be your light forever” (Isaiah 60:1, 3, 6, and 19).
The light these travelers saw was like the light St. John describes in the Apocalypse, “The city had no need for sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure” (Revelation 21:23 and 24). So important is this manifestation of glory that the Evangelist indicates this mystery at the very beginning of his Gospel, “In Him was life, and this life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). This saving glory and this guiding light is found by following the Lord in faith, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
The Star is connected to the Word disclosed in the words of Sacred Scripture. Those who want to find this Star for themselves must search the Scriptures like the Magi searched the heavens. As St. Maximus the Confessor explains,
“A star glitters by day in the East and leads the wise men to the place where the incarnate Word lies, to show that the Word, contained in the Law and Prophets, surpasses in a mystical way knowledge derived from the senses and to lead the Gentiles to the full light of knowledge. For surely the word of the Law and Prophets when it is understood with faith is like a star which leads those who are called by the power of grace in accordance with his decree to recognize the Word incarnate.”
This search, this prayer imbued gaze on the Scriptures, this lectio divina is worth the effort. The Light of this Word brings peace and is transforming glory for those who gaze on it. St. Augustine encourages, “The Lord of hosts is himself the King of Glory. He will transform us and show us his face, and we shall be saved; all our longing will be fulfilled, all our desires satisfied.”
In the encounter with Christ this start establishes us in, the soul falls in love with the Lord in deeper ways and is moved to a loved filled adoration of the immensity of God and the greatness of his mercy. The stillness and peace which brilliant radiance of the Word envelops the soul is so great, mystics like Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity are moved by this splendor to cry out in prayer, “I want to gaze on You always and remain in Your great light. O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from Your radiance.”
Art for this post “Following the Star”: Detail of Homburg Kirchegemaelde (Homburg church painting [Adoration of the Magi]), artist not identified, photographed by Pingelig, 9 October 2014 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons.