Today is the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is a great word - it means “manifestation,” or “to be made known - to be revealed.” It’s a wonderful word. Today is the feast day where we celebrate the manifestation of God through Jesus Christ.
Matthew presents the story of the Epiphany - the revealing of the birth of the Messiah in a fascinating way. Matthew is the only gospel to tell us the story of the magi and the star of Bethlehem. Throughout the centuries people have wondered about this story of the magi and the star - it is so unusual. Some cynics - both inside the church and outside - will try to tell us that this story is some kind of early Christian myth to prove some theological point - and that it has no basis in historical fact.
But God manifests himself in real ways, for those who have eyes to see. God reveals his presence to us so that we may believe in him and accept his gifts of grace and salvation. The Holy Spirit is not a made up fantasy - the Holy Spirit performs real works to stir up our faith -- but only for those who will have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts willing to believe. It has always been this way and it will always be this way.
Notice two groups of people in the story. The first group is the Magi. They saw something happening in the movement of the stars and planets that compelled them to make the long journey to Jerusalem to seek the newborn king of the Jews. Theirs is the story of faith and fulfillment.
The second group is the court of King Herod and all the chief priests and scribes. They were greatly troubled by the news from the magi. They did not see the signs. But when the magi reported the signs to them, they were greatly troubled. Theirs is the story of rejection and treachery.
Matthew says some very specific things about the celestial event. Notice the details as presented in The details are like data points about the occurrence.
1. They saw the star from the East.
2. They saw the star at its rising
3. It signified a newborn king of the Jews.
4. It was subtle. King Herod and the chief priests and scribes did not notice it.
5. The star had a definite time of appearance.
6. The star preceded them on their journey to Bethlehem.
7. The star stopped over the place where the child was born.
Matthew gives us a lot of information about the event. These signs must have been what impelled the magi to ride from the east to give homage to this newborn king. What we can believe is that this manifestation did in fact occur in the way that Matthew describes it here. In this day and age we can explore the celestial signs in this way. The math that is used to calculate the movements of the stars and the planets is very precise. Therefore the position of the stars and planets can be calculated for any given day in the past, present, and in the future. The cosmos is like a giant clock, very precise. Software exists that makes the calculation and gives really great computer graphics about what the planets and constellations do on any given date.
There is a wonderful website - that provides incredible detail about this phenomena and also offers a wonderful video about the event. The website is worthy of a visit and the video is worth watching. Things such as this helps us to understand that sacred scripture really is the inspired Word of God. It shows, from a verifiable scientific perspective, that the astronomical phenomena occurred in precisely the way that Matthew describes it.
God announced his coming in the incarnation in a way that is absolutely, jaw droppingly astounding for those who have eyes to see. The Magi, foreigners from the east, had the eyes to see what God was announcing in the heavens about the Messiah. And they had the faith to follow the signs to see what God was doing in their day and time.
God continues to announce his presence among us today. God is made manifest in really wonderful ways for those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts willing to believe.
How can we do that? How, in this day and time, can we see the manifestation of God? Let’s use the example of the birth of the Messiah. It was not at all spectacular at first glance. Stars are always in the sky. Who is going to pay attention to their movements to see what they announce? At the birth of Jesus, in all the world, only that small group of Magi saw the signs and understood the message. Whereas the people of Jerusalem, the chosen people, missed the sign. So it must have looked very ordinary for those not paying attention.
Jesus himself was born in a stable, not a palace. But Jesus, the Bread that Came Down from Heaven, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. That didn’t look very spectacular either unless one understands the significance of Jesus the Messiah as the Bread of Life being placed in a feeding trough. A spectacular sign when understood. But in all other respects completely ordinary.
And so it is in our lives. So many things look so very ordinary. The Holy Eucharist, looks like simple bread and simple wine. There is nothing extraordinary about its appearance. But this is what God is like. God comes to us in humble and simple ways. The secret is this. When we pray - when we meditate on the signs of our time - when we ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, it is then that God opens for us the treasury of His revelation. It is then that we see with new eyes. It is then that we perceive the events of our lives with a spiritual understanding. The spiritual world is unveiled for us and we begin to understand that earth is crammed with heaven. This is epiphany - the manifestation of God - Emmanuel - God With Us. And it is truly marvelous for those able to see it.
For those who have eyes to see - let them see. And believe.