The Christmas Star's Sign
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel."
"We saw his star at its rising, and have come to do him homage" (Mt2:2). This brief line wonderfully captures the mystery of the feast of Epiphany which we celebrate today, meditating on the journey and visit of the magi from the East. The epiphany, which traditionally also celebrated the wedding feast at Cana and Christ's own baptism in the Jordan River, gives thanks to God for having shown himself to us definitively in Christ, and draws us to respond in real acts of worship.
The star that guided the Magi, casting its light across the entire earth, speaks of this mystery of revelation. Why does this star, the revelation of Jesus Christ, matter so much? As John's Gospel confirms, "No one has ever seen God" (Jn1:18). This is the natural state of affairs in a fallen world. Normally, God remains unseen, speaking to humanity through the inner structure of nature and of the human heart, sometimes giving particular messages to prophets and mystics, but always remaining essentially hidden. While we might come to know about him, about his goodness and providence, God remains beyond the reach of a relationship. Even the people of Israel, to whom God spoke directly, who saw his miracles, who enjoyed his presence among them in the Temple, knew him by a mysterious name that they honored with silence.
In Christ, something new happens. While John tells us that "No one has ever seen God," he continues to proclaim that "the only son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made him known" (Jn 1:18). Jesus, as the Word of the Father, the true Son of God, who is of one same nature with the Father, is really the "image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15). As he tells the Apostle Phillip at the Last Supper, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9). In Jesus Christ, for the first time, we can look into the face of God himself. This new and definitive revelation begins when the Christ child is made known by the light of the Christmas star, and continues through his whole life, as the miracles he works, the sublime teaching he gives, and the voice of the Father himself all declare that he is the beloved Son of the Father. From the rising of that star, the world is changed, and it is now possible to meet God directly, even to enter into real friendship with him.
The response of the Magi, to go out from their home to order to bow before this newly revealed king and offer to him the most precious things they could, tells us the attitude of thankfulness and adoration that should come from seeing and understanding who Christ is. God did not have to come to us in Christ Jesus, showing himself and inviting us to know him. It is in a free act of love that he does this, and love calls for love in return. To love God back with gratitude, knowing that he has invited us to a joy we did not earn, and could never have earned,, is close to the heart of an act of worship.
Just as the Magi offered the treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh, acknowledging the child to be the true king, of divine origin, and destined to offer himself in love for us, so we too should offer the gold of charity, the frankincense of trusting belief in him, and the myrrh of loving penance and reformation of our lives in his image. Doing so joins us to the joy of the grateful Magi, the joy of Christians throughout all history, and indeed, the joy of God himself, who delights in drawing all people to himself.